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UN Says Humanitarian Crisis at Risk of Escalating in Kenya


The U.N. humanitarian chief warns that if Kenya's political crisis is not quickly resolved, the risk of fresh violence, more displacement, and further polarization of society will be high. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer reports that John Holmes told the Security Council humanitarian issues are serious and likely to last for months, even if there is a rapid political settlement.

John Holmes briefed the council on his trip to Kenya earlier this month. He says more than 270,000 people from six of Kenya's eight provinces remain in about 200 camps and sites.

"An estimated 500,000 altogether continue to require emergency assistance with shelter, water, food and medical care," said Holmes. "Some 12,000 Kenyan refugees in Uganda are also being looked after."

Holmes says most of the basic humanitarian needs at these camps and sites have been met. He credited the Kenyan Red Cross Society with leading the response, after violence erupted in the aftermath of the December 27 presidential election.

He says the displaced will in many cases not be able to go home quickly, requiring the United Nations to remain engaged for some months to come on the humanitarian front.

"Indeed, we are planning on the sort of the time horizon of at least a year, for the moment," said Holmes. "I also underlined that even if there was a rapid political settlement, some of the issues, which lie behind the explosion of violence after the elections, are very deep rooted, and they are to do with questions of land, and poverty and economic inequality and questions of representation in government. They will need to be addressed."

Holmes also told the council that the crisis is having an impact on the region, particularly in terms of imports and the transport of humanitarian assistance to other countries.

Kenya has long been East Africa's main transport hub, and Holmes says instability and violence in Kenya has affected shipments reaching Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as parts of Tanzania and Southern Sudan.

The U.N. humanitarian chief says the scale of the crisis in Kenya remains significant, and if political negotiations fail, the humanitarian consequences of renewed violence could also be very severe. He says the United Nations is preparing contingency plans should that happen.

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