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As Drought Intensifies, Kenya Fears Famine

A dead zebra is seen at the Amboseli national park, where the zebra and wildebeest population has been decimated by drought, and the park's carnivores are now roaming far and wide in search of food, Feb 10, 2010

Food shortages are looming in Kenya as last season's lighter-than-normal rains begin to affect harvests in the arid north.

As Kenya begins its annual dry season, there are mounting fears of crop failure and a shortages of food for residents in the dry regions of the eastern and northeastern provinces.

Last year brought early predictions of a coming drought, with groups such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network pointing to a La Nina system in the Pacific as bringing light rainfall during the critical “short rains” period from October through December.

The Kenyan government moved to ease the blow of the light season through the distribution of drought-resistant crops and the acquisition of additional grain reserves. But it appears the measures may not be enough to prevent hunger in the coming months.

Recently, Kenya’s Ministry of Livestock Development warned that over 150,000 camels, 6 million cattle and 16 million goats were at risk as a result of the drought conditions.

The Kenyan cabinet held a meeting Wednesday to talk about the response to the impending crisis. Government Spokesperson Alfred Mutua discusses how Kenya plans to avoid famine.

"The ministries involved will ensure that food arrives to where it is supposed to arrive, on time," said Mutua. "Second, the government will engage in the buying of cattle and livestock in endangered areas. More importantly the cabinet said that nobody should die in this country because there is plenty of food in different parts of this country. So it is a matter of transporting that food to the people who need the food.”

Some feel the government intervention, however, may not be enough. The Red Cross Society of Kenya is expected to launch an appeal for emergency assistance by the end of the week and has urged the government to declare a national disaster. The humanitarian group worries that dying pastures will force northern residents into even more unstable areas.

At least two people are suspected to have been killed by the drought conditions, and some northern officials estimate as many as 30,000 to be at risk. There also are fears the desperate conditions will encourage cattle rustling - a persistent problem in Northern areas in which residents violently clash over livestock.

Kenya is still recovering from a massive drought from 2007-2009, which sent food prices skywards and weakened the otherwise robust economy.