The Kenyan government and the United Nations World Food Program say the number of Kenyans needing food aid has shot up to 3.5 million, nearly tripling the number of people in need of emergency aid.
An assessment mission from the Kenyan government, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program and other agencies says the food shortage has been caused by a complete failure of the short rains late last year in the Northern, North Eastern and parts of the coastal and Rift Valley provinces of Kenya.
Tesema Negash, who heads WFP's operations in Kenya, says some donors have come up to assist the hungry but the aid falls short of needs.
"Since January 2006, WFP has received a commodities of 60,000 metric tons of cereal, maize and rice from the government of Kenya for which we are looking for cash to move the food," said Negash. "We have also received 14,400 metric tons of maize and 10,800 metric tons of assorted contributions from the United States. These resources are barely enough to take us through February and March and it is critical that the government of Kenya and its partners must act now to avoid a massive humanitarian catastrophe."
United Nations agencies and other relief organizations working in Kenya now say they need an extra $230 million to fund operations to provide food and non-food assistance to some 3.5 million Kenyans. Initial estimates had put the number of people needing relief assistance at half that number.
John Munyes, the minister for special programs in the Kenyan government, says donors should provide relief assistance before the search for food and pasture drives the affected populations across borders.
"Drought conditions have also affected our neighboring countries including Somalia, Southern Ethiopia and Tanzania," he said. "This has increased the vulnerability of mobile pastoralist communities who are finding it increasingly difficult to find water and pasture in these areas. International and national responses to the drought has therefore to consider a regional perspective to avoid large scale population movements from areas where there is no response, to areas where assistance is being provided."
The British charitable organization Oxfam earlier in the week warned that chronic drought and famine was triggering tribal fighting in parts of the country as affected populations clash over pasture and water. The charity cited a recent incident in which 30 people were killed when nomads from neighboring Ethiopia allegedly carried out raids into northeastern Kenya. It says similar clashes have been reported along the Kenya-Uganda border.
Oxfam says slow donor response to a similar food crisis in Kenya 1972 led to many deaths and urges the donor community to respond to the current crisis expeditiously.