Food keeps schools open

The drought that has hit various regions of Kenya has created serious food shortages, but despite this, schools in Wajir South District have remained open, an official said.

"We are concerned [about] the current drought and hunger," said Ibrahim Mohamed, the district’s early childhood education officer. "It is severe - the worst in recent years. Both children and parents are affected [but the] education sector is most affected."

The provision of breakfast porridge and lunch for children in pre-primary school has, however, helped the schools stay open - and even enroll an average of 50 to 100 new pupils since May, Mohammed added.

Moses Mwangi, district education officer, said 24 primary schools in Wajir South, with more than 5,000 pupils, were operating at full capacity courtesy of school-feeding programmes.

Officials in Garissa and Ijara said school-feeding programmes in arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya had prevented possible deaths from starvation among the pupils.

"It is important for such children to stay in school and benefit from the feeding programme because the country is hard-hit not only by drought but also high food prices," said Gabrielle Menezes, information officer for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Kenya.

WFP is feeding at least 900,000 children during the school holiday month of August, mostly in Kenya's arid and semi-arid (ASAL) regions.

"School children in urban areas such as slums in Nairobi and Mombasa are not covered in this programme because we are using funding for our emergency operations in ASAL areas," Menezes explained.

Altogether, she said, WFP was providing food aid for at least 3.2 million Kenyans under its general food distribution programme. However, it has received only 35 percent of the funding it needs from August through January 2010, and so needs to raise another US$124 million.

"We are asking donors to contribute so that we don't have to cut the food rations," Menezes said.

Photo: FEWS
Estimated food security conditions across the country, for July-September 2009

Water shortages

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), the worsening drought in ASAL areas has also led to severe water shortages, which is likely to compromise safe water and sanitation services. This could trigger waterborne diseases, increase resource-based conflict, disease outbreaks and displacement of people due to high mobility among pastoral communities.

"Kenya is grappling with a convergence of limited resources, inflation of food prices, looming low grain harvest, high malnutrition levels, deteriorating livestock body conditions and increased vulnerability of the urban poor," KRCS said in its Drought Operations Update for July.

According to a joint assessment by the government and its partners, the drought has affected the northern pastoral cluster – Turkana, Moyale, Marsabit and Samburu districts; and the eastern pastoral cluster – Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Isiolo and Tana River districts.

It has also affected the agro-pastoral cluster – Baringo, West Pokot, Laikipia and Kajiado districts; the eastern marginal agricultural cluster – Tharaka, Mbeere, Makueni, Mwingi and Kitui districts; and the coastal marginal agricultural cluster – Taita Taveta, Malindi, Kilifi and Kwale districts.