Without more funding Kenyan drought will lead to disaster, UN agency warns

6 March 2006

The death toll among 3.5 million Kenyans in need of emergency assistance could rise in the coming months unless donations to head off a disaster arrive soon, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned, stressing that the agency still needs $189 million for its year-long emergency operation.

The death toll among 3.5 million Kenyans in need of emergency assistance could rise in the coming months unless donations to head off a disaster arrive soon, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned, stressing that the agency still needs $189 million for its year-long emergency operation.

“Yesterday I saw thousands of pastoralists barely existing in the town of El Wak in northeastern Kenya on the border with Somalia,” WFP Executive Director James Morris said on his return to Nairobi, the capital, after a visit to the epicentre of the Horn of Africa drought.

“They have lost their animals, and with them, their means of survival. They are forced to share the food aid they receive with new arrivals who are showing up each day. So far the human death toll is fairly limited.

“WFP and its partners are quickly registering the new arrivals to ensure they receive food, but we fear that any break in food supply to the most vulnerable people will lead to suffering and death on a much larger scale,” he added.

Mr. Morris also expressed deep concern about the regional nature of the drought and its impact on neighbouring war-torn Somalia, where WFP requires $34 million for its emergency operations for the rest of 2006 and access to 1.4 million people in need of food aid in the south is difficult due to insecurity.

“While poor funding is hampering emergency drought operations in Kenya, WFP and other humanitarian agencies in southern Somalia face the enormous challenge of reaching drought victims in remote and insecure areas,” he said. “We urge leaders and rival militia to set aside their differences and guarantee safe passage to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.”

A spate of ship hijackings off Somalia in 2005 closed WFP’s normal supply routes for food aid by sea. Overland relief convoys regularly face insecurity. WFP is using a combination of the slower and more costly land routes and limited shipping to increase food deliveries to meet growing needs. It has contingency plans for air drops, which are more costly than the land transport in case of flooding when the rains come.

In a related development, WFP today announced the world’s first insurance contract for humanitarian emergencies with the signing of an agreement with the AXA Re company for $7 million in contingency funding in a pilot scheme to provide coverage in the case of an extreme drought during Ethiopia’s 2006 agricultural season.

The policy, a derivative based upon a calibrated index of rainfall data gathered from 26 weather stations across Ethiopia, takes advantage of financial and technical innovations in the weather risk market. Payment will be triggered when data gathered over a period from March to October indicates that rainfall is significantly below historic averages, pointing to the likelihood of widespread crop failure.

While the experimental pilot transaction only provides a small amount of contingency funding, the model has been designed on the basis of the potential losses that 17 million poor Ethiopian farmers risk should an extreme drought arise.

“The humanitarian emergency insurance contract might, in the future, offer us a way of insuring against these massive losses before they spell destitution for millions of families,” Mr. Morris said.

 

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