The United Nations' World Food Program made its first-ever food delivery to slums in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Thursday, revealing the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the east African country after post-election violence displaced hundreds of thousands of people there. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from Nairobi.
Thousands of people shoved and clawed their way to a Kenyan Red Cross truck that began distributing food early Thursday in Nairobi's Kibera slum, one of the largest slums in the world and home to almost one million people.
A mother of five young children was clinging desperately to a truck that carried vegetable oil, beans, lentil, and high-protein biscuits donated by the World Food Program and cereals provided by the Kenyan government. She says she and her family had not eaten for the past four days.
"We were told that food is coming here. We have come for food. I am hungry, Bwana [sir]!," she said.
The vast majority of people in Kibera and other slums in the capital, including many day laborers, say they have been prisoners in their homes for nearly two weeks because of the on-going violence and insecurity.
With few people able to work, many families, who were already barely surviving on less than two dollars a day, have been left destitute.
The spokesman for the World Food Program in Nairobi, Peter Smerdon, says even those who have some money have not been able to buy the most basic food supplies.
"The slums have managed to get by with extreme problems," Smerdon said. "But now, they really do need help. They are short of food because traders did not want to bring food into the slums because of the unrest and if they did bring a little bit of food in, food prices had gone up in some cases by 400 percent, so the people in the slums cannot afford to buy the food that is brought in."
On December 30, Kibera, a stronghold of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, erupted in riots and looting after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the December 27 presidential vote. The opposition says the vote was rigged.
Election-related violence in Kibera and other opposition strongholds in Nairobi and in western Kenya quickly degenerated into brutal ethnic battles, prompting some 255,000 people to flee their homes.
Long considered one of the most politically stable countries in Africa, U.N. agencies and dozens of other aid organizations have long used Kenya as an operational hub to help people escape turmoil in neighboring countries.
Aid workers say few agencies had anticipated a crisis of this scale within Kenya itself.
In several violence-wracked areas of western Kenya, Smerdon says WFP is working with local partners to feed more 100,000 people, who have lost everything, including their homes, farms, and businesses in ethnic clashes and to marauding criminal gangs.
WFP says in recent days, food has been distributed to about 71,000 Kenyans in the northern Rift Valley area, but aid officials say another 30,000 people in western Kenya are in dire need of assistance.
"Yes, our Kenyan staff and my foreign colleagues are shocked," Smerdon said. "In northern and eastern Kenya, there are droughts and floods and WFP is currently feeding 700,000 people there. But you do not expect to see that in western Kenya, which is the bread basket of the country."
Local radio and television stations have been urging private citizens, who have not been affected by the unrest, to donate food, clothes, and other goods to help alleviate the burden on aid agencies.