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WFP: Kenya Facing Catastrophic Food Shortages

The World Food Program warns Kenya is facing a catastrophic decline of food and the agency will have to more than double the number of people it feeds there to over four million. WFP says drought and erratic rains following three successively poor harvest seasons have resulted in widespread crop failure.

Weather clearly has played a major role in creating this disastrous situation. But, the World Food Program says the violence which followed the 2007 Presidential election worsened Kenya's food crisis by displacing thousands of people from the Rift Valley, the country's food basket.

WFP representative in Kenya, Burkard Oberle, says this post-election crisis set off a whole chain of instability, which has increased food shortages. He says southeastern and coastal areas of Kenya are particularly hard hit.

"I have been traveling through the area myself and have seen very shocking pictures of crops having wilted, of whole fields not producing a single kernel of grain, of livestock migrating now into more distant regions in search of water," said Oberle. "Diseases for livestock are also on the increase. Rift Valley fever is also a threat that is spreading."

A week ago, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared a "national emergency." He said 10 million people faced food shortages and launched an appeal for $400 million in foreign aid.

The World Food Program currently is feeding 2.1 million people and says it will have to more than double that caseload. In the worst-case scenario, it says it might have to increase the number of beneficiaries to between four and 4.8 million people.

Oberle says the impact of the drought is all too visible.

"Children are dropping out of school in search of other opportunities to support family income," he said. "I have referred to the long distance that pastoralists are now migrating with their cattle in search of water. And, that stretches actually across the borders and creates very small, but very frequent conflict between various population groups who now are competing for scarce water resources."

There is only one crop season between October and December. Since that has failed, people will have to wait until December of this year before they can plant another crop.

WFP says it needs $126 million to stretch its humanitarian operation in Kenya until July.