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UN Reports 500,000 Kenyans Will Need Assistance

The United Nations says it expects one half million people in Kenya, whose livelihoods were destroyed during post-election violence, will need assistance in the coming months. U.N. aid agencies report the situation in the country has stabilized, but remains precarious. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

For now, United Nations humanitarian operations are mainly focused on getting food and other vital relief supplies to tens of thousands of the most vulnerable people in the Rift Valley and slums of the capital Nairobi.

They are among more than one quarter of a million people who have been displaced by the ethnic clashes following Kenya's disputed presidential election at the end of December.

Elizabeth Byrs is Spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance. She says the United Nations is expected to launch an appeal next week on behalf of 255,000 people in Kenya. But, she says twice that number are likely to need assistance in the coming months.

"Some farms have been burned, livelihoods have been destroyed," said Byrs. "So, we fear that malnutrition will worsen. So, if their fragile livelihood has been destroyed, what can you expect? We will have to help them. I am not talking about camps or providing assistance to IDPs [internally displaced people] in camps. But, we will have to help the country to restore the livelihoods of the most vulnerable."

U.N. aid agencies report security in the country has improved and they are now able to distribute aid without difficulty. But, they say the situation remains very tense and some truck drivers are reluctant to move relief supplies to the needy without an armed escort.

For the first time since the riots broke out, the World Food Program has started distributing food in Nairobi's slums. Spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says more than 30,000 people in Kibera and three other slums in the capital are receiving assistance.

"It is a priority for us right now to feed those people because for them the situation has been very difficult," Berthiaume. "Most of them are daily workers. They could not work because of the insecurity and the violence and the fighting.

"And, there has been very, very little food getting into the slums. And, the little food that got in has been sold at a tremendous price. There has been a raise of 400 percent of the prices of the food in the market," she added.

Berthiaume notes a majority of the slum dwellers live on about one dollar a day and cannot afford to buy food at those prices.

WFP also has been feeding 46,000 displaced people in the hard-hit Rift Valley. This program complements the government's distribution of cereal to 71,000 displaced.

Berthiaume says a WFP helicopter is now flying over the valley to try to locate people who may have been cut off from the road and from assistance. Those who are found, she says, will be helped in the coming days.