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Kenyan President Visits Famine and Drought-Stricken Area


Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki Tuesday toured areas in northern Kenya hit particularly hard by a recent famine and drought in which at least 20 people have died over the past few weeks. Experts estimate that some 2.5 million people need emergency food aid.

During his one-day trip to Wajir and Mandera districts, Mr. Kibaki ceremonially sent off some trucks delivering food aid to malnourished and hungry people.

Mr. Kibaki also met with Kenyans suffering from the famine and drought, and assured them that his government was doing everything in its power to help them. He also promised to purchase livestock that might otherwise perish from the drought.

"He's on top of things," explained government spokesman Alfred Mutua. "He's monitoring the situation, and he will ensure that any person and every person who can be fed, who should receive clean water or medical care does so in a very fast manner."

Mr. Kibaki and his government has come under fire from church groups and others for what they say is the government's failure to build up and transport food stocks from productive areas of the country.

Two seasons of failed rains has resulted in what the Kenya Red Cross says is a serious situation in about 22 districts, mostly in northern Kenya.

The Red Cross' secretary-general Abbas Gullet explains the conditions in those areas.

"Animals have been dying by the thousands if not the hundreds of thousands," he said. "People themselves are facing grim situations where they are losing their livelihood. These are pastoralist communities - they are losing their animals. There is serious water shortage, there is serious food shortage."

Mr. Gullet says his organization and others are trying to rehabilitate existing bore holes for drinking water wells and truck in water to improve the situation.

At least 20 people have died within the past few weeks in affected areas. Mr. Gullet says many people are suffering from malnutrition and diseases related to a poor water supply.

The government and private donors are shipping food aid to the affected areas. In a December 24 statement, Mr. Kibaki said 7.5 million bags of maize and 2.5 million bags of beans and other food items are still needed to bridge the food gap.