Threat of Famine Looms in Kenya as Conditions Worsen

As malnutrition rates skyrocket and the local resource base deteriorates, ACF warns that the worst has yet to come.

Malnutrition is increasing exponentially in northern Kenya, reports the international aid organization Action Against Hunger (also known as Action contre la Faim or ACF). With little food, no water, and dying cattle, the area faces the possibility of famine, the organization warns.

During the first three weeks of December, the number of children admitted into ACF's emergency feeding centers was 29% higher than during the entire month of November, with 49% of those cases coming in the past week. In addition, children arriving at the centers are more severely malnourished than those the organization has seen in the past, and they've been suffering from more potentially fatal diseases such as dysentery and malaria. ACF's supplemental feeding centers, which treat children suffering from less severe cases of malnutrition, are also seeing the largest number of admissions since the centers opened in 2004.

"The situation in Mandera has really gone from bad to disastrous," said Kelly Delaney, ACF nutritionist.

A lack of infrastructure in a harsh environment has meant a constant fight against malnutrition for the population living in northern Kenya. According to ACF Emergency Coordinator Roger Persichino, poor rainfall over the past three seasons has made the situation worse for the already vulnerable population, killing cattle that the pastoral population depends on for its livelihood.

"This population depends on cattle for food, transportation, and economic viability," said Persichino. "Cattle dying now means that children will die months from now, and families will be left with no economic viability or way to feed themselves."

With the support of the Kenyan government, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the European Union, UNICEF, and the World Food Program, Action Against Hunger has been working in conjunction with local NGOs and other international aid organizations to reach imperiled populations throughout the district.

ACF is currently opening a new feeding center in the northwest and will be working with the local community to distribute water, rehabilitate wells, and improve sanitation for about 54,000 people. Additional international support is nonetheless essential. ACF warns that without blanket food distributions, immediate assistance to livestock, support for the local health-care system, and a focus on the long-term rehabilitation of water and sanitation facilities, Kenya is likely to face even more deaths in the future.

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