Famine threatens East Africa

2006-01-17 11:06

Nairobi - The number of people threatened by famine in drought-hit East Africa has soared by about two million as conditions continue to deteriorate in Ethiopia and Kenya, officials said on Tuesday.

The Kenyan government said 3.5 to four million people were now at risk of starvation in its north, northeast, western and coastal regions, up from 2.5 million, while the United Nations said 1.75 million in southeast and east Ethiopia were now in need of urgent aid, up from about one million.

"We estimate that the number of people in need of food aid has shot up from 2.5 million to between 3.5 million and four million people," Special Programmes Minister John Munyes told AFP. "This is because we have identified additional pockets in the east, northeast and west that are in need."

The additional number of people in need means that Kenya now needs $263m in emergency donor aid to fill a relief funding shortfall earlier estimated at $150m.

40 have died

In New York, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) said that failed rains had left Ethiopia's southeastern Somali region and eastern Oromiya region "confronting an escalating humanitarian crisis."

Earlier estimates offered by UN agencies and relief organisations had put the number of Ethiopians directly threatened by the drought at about one million.

In addition to those at risk in Ethiopia and Kenya, about two million people in Somalia and 150 000 people in Djibouti, nearly a fifth of the population, are also in dire need of food assistance to survive, according to the UN.

In late December, the US-funded Famine Early Warning System had put the total number at imminent risk of starvation across the Horn of Africa at about 6.5 million people but the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) later put the figure at 11 million.

In Kenya, at least 40 people have died since December due to drought-related malnutrition and associated illnesses.

President Mwai Kibaki has declared the situation a national disaster and ordered the military to help in distributing food and water but on Tuesday the British charity Oxfam said the delivery of assistance was being hindered by a breakdown in the so-called "single pipeline" delivery system.

It said the new figures were an alarming reminder of the need to improve "fractured" relief operations by ending parallel distribution systems.

"These new figures show how bad this crisis is becoming," said Paul Smith-Lomas, Oxfams regional director for east Africa. "The situation is worse than it has been for many years and the hardest months are still ahead of us."

Oxfam urged the Kenyan government and the United Nations to streamline the delivery of aid to the worst-affected areas and appealed to donors to fully fund a new UN appeal for help expected to be issued in early February.