Stranded UN food shipments begin to make their way to displaced Kenyans

Stranded UN food shipments begin to make their way to displaced Kenyans

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After being stranded for days due to insecurity, the first convoy of trucks from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) left the Kenyan port of Mombasa today bound for Nairobi and Eldoret, where thousands displaced by the recent post-election violence have arrived.

The agency said more food assistance arrived in the Northern Rift Valley town of Eldoret for 100,000 people driven from their homes by the violence that broke out after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of last week's polls. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has disputed the results.

The UN estimates that some 250,000 Kenyans have been displaced, and 350 reportedly killed, as a result of the violence.

WFP had been waiting at Mombasa, a major port for several countries in the region, with 30,000 metric tonnes of food, enough for 1.5 million people, for eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Somalia and Southern Sudan.

Some trucks left Mombasa but then were stranded due to insecurity on main roads and checkpoints set up by vigilantes in western Kenya.

WFP's Peter Smerdon told reporters in Nairobi that 20 trucks loaded with 670 metric tons of food, enough to feed at least 70,000 people for two weeks, left Mombasa today escorted by police. Eleven of the trucks, carrying pulses and vegetable oil, are headed to Eldoret and the others to Nairobi.

"The trucks for Nairobi will provide stocks that WFP can draw on as soon as a plan to provide food assistance to the hungry in Nairobi's slums is agreed by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRC), other partners, church-based organizations and the authorities," he said.

WFP is providing non-cereal items to the KRC to feed the 100,000 people estimated displaced in the Northern Rift Valley. At the same time, the Kenyan Government is providing the KRC with over 1,800 tons of cereals, enough to feed 120,000 people for one month, for distribution.

The KRC in Eldoret informed WFP that it has distributed 124 tons of food to nearly 26,000 people in the Northern Rift Valley so far. Two trucks loaded with 35 tons of WFP high energy biscuits arrived in Eldoret on Saturday.

Mr. Smerdon said that to respond to the current crisis, WFP is drawing on stocks from its other operations in Kenya -- feeding 700,000 people hit by drought, a country programme for 1.1 million children in 3,800 schools, and an HIV/AIDS project in Nairobi and Eldoret. "But the borrowed food will need to be repaid," he added.

Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is supporting the Government and partner organizations in setting up a central camp for 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Eldoret.

The agency noted that a number of children have been separated from their families during the recent violence, although it is not possible to establish the exact number right now. "There are also reports of sexual violence but it is not possible to get a very clear picture," Pamela Sittoni of UNICEF Kenya said.

Currently, an inter-agency UN mission is assessing the situation in Eldoret. Jens Laerke of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that preliminary reports indicate "very disturbing evidence of houses burnt to the ground and people on the move."

For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it will aid to up to 100,000 displaced people in the Rift Valley and in other areas around Nairobi.

The agency has supplies for 50,000 people in its Nairobi warehouses and will bring in additional items from its regional emergency stockpiles in Dubai and Tanzania.

"Considering the long and distinguished record Kenya has in hosting tens of thousands of refugees from across Africa, we are committed to assisting and supporting Kenya and will do our level best to help ease them through this crisis," UNHCR's Emmanuel Nyabera said in Nairobi.