The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has appealed for at least US$230 million to provide emergency food assistance in the next six months to 3.8 million Kenyans affected by drought and subsequent high food prices.
"[At least] 260,000MT of food are required to feed the affected population," WFP Kenya country director, Burkard Oberle, said.
WFP, which has been providing about 32,000MT of food per month, is already distributing general food rations to 2.6 million people.
The agency also intends to expand its school-feeding programme by 100,000 to reach 1.2 million children in affected areas.
"School meals are very important, especially now when schools are about to re-open," Oberle said, adding that it was necessary to maintain and extend the programme.
More than a million schoolchildren have been receiving food during the August school holidays.
Oberle said: "We hope that through concerted efforts we can avoid people dying."
The government is also trucking water to drought-affected communities and buying livestock at a cost of KSh8,000 (about $105) per live cow, significantly above prevailing market prices.
A 2009 long rains assessment found that "3.8 million pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and marginal agricultural farm households require urgent humanitarian food assistance”.
The assessment, conducted by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) in May and July, covered 30 districts, including 27 drought-prone ones and three affected by the 2008 post-election violence.
Failure of the long rains in the marginal agricultural lowlands and some pastoral and agro-pastoral areas have caused a substantial decline in both crop and livestock production, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net).
High cereal prices have further accentuated food insecurity. The average price of the main staple, maize, has doubled over the last year.
Expected long-rains maize production will be about 28 percent below normal because of insufficient rains - further tightening supply.
|The 2009 long rains food security assessment report found that some 3.8 million Kenyans require food assistance (file photo)|
Worsening food security
"The current food security situation remains highly precarious," FEWS Net noted in its outlook, which points to worsening food insecurity in the southeastern and coastal lowlands as well as in many pastoral areas up to September.
The KFSSG assessment identified poor land use, low agricultural diversification and over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture as major factors contributing to food insecurity.
Widespread environmental degradation was also cited "as an underlying cause of food insecurity in most agriculture-based livelihoods".
The KFSSG assessment estimates that "over 242,000 children under five years are moderately malnourished and 39,000 are severely malnourished and consequently, have three and nine times more chances of dying [respectively] if appropriate interventions are not implemented".
According to Oberle, the current drought is worse than the one in 2006 and could compare to the one in 2000 - the worst in 37 years - if the situation does not improve.
By June 2000, an estimated 1.7 million people needed food assistance, reaching four million by December 2000.