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Kenya's Food Crisis Worsening

Kenya's government is announcing new emergency steps to address the country's growing food crisis. But critics say the government's actions are too little, too late.

The emergency plan announced by the Kenyan Cabinet this week includes mobilizing the army to assist those desperately short on food and water.

The plan also nearly doubles the amount of rationed food and provides emergency measures for herders whose livestock is threatened by the area's severe drought.

Rockefeller Foundation food security analyst Joseph Nyoro welcomed the government's announcement, but said the relief plan is inadequate.

"The announcement by the Cabinet was necessary. But it was not sufficient, and it ran short of the expectations of Kenyans," he said.

Nyoro is also critical of the government's decision to rely on the army as the main vehicle for the assistance, saying it is the local communities and the civil society that actually know in each area who are suffering the most.

It has been reported that Kenya President Mwai Kibaki was briefed for the first time on the total severity of the food and water crises just last month. Humanitarian organizations have been raising the alarm that millions of Kenyans could be facing possible starvation since the beginning of the year.

Kenya Prime Minister Raila Odinga predicted Wednesday that domestic grain production will fall 65 percent short of domestic demand this year. The nation will have to import the grain shortfall if it hopes to avoid massive starvation.

The government says it is working with the private sector and donor countries to meet the Kenya's food needs.

The drought is also having a devastating effect on the nation's mostly-nomadic pastoral herders. Many are deciding to cut their losses and sell their emaciated cattle instead of risking the death of the animals should the drought continue much longer.

Nyoro faults the government for being blindsided by the crisis.

"When you come to budget allocation, it was totally ignorant of the total circumstances that were prevailing in the country. The budget was actually cited less than it was the previous year. And yet we were caught up in this food crisis," he said.

Kenyan minister of agriculture William Ruto also chides his government's financial priorities. He says the long-term solution to the nation's food insecurity needs to be addressed through funding development of the country's agricultural sector.

"The truth of the matter is that we have to re-arrange our budget. We have to be cognizant of the reality that unless we finance the agricultural sector, talk of growing the economy is talk in vain. We really have to look at our budget process," said Ruto.

The water shortage is also causing a severe energy shortfall across the country, which relies heavily on hydro-electric power. Kenya's major power company has instituted systematic power rationing until power supplies improve.