Global perspective Human stories

Damage, displacement in western Kenya a ‘tragedy,’ says top UN official

Damage, displacement in western Kenya a ‘tragedy,’ says top UN official

Travelling to western Kenya’s Northern Rift Valley to survey the humanitarian toll taken by post-election violence, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today voiced concern over the plight of those forced to flee their homes.

"It is a tragedy that people have been pushed out of the homes by brutal violence," Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said while touring camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

"For many, their homes and crops have been burned and they have been left with nothing. Now they want to go back, but their security is not ensured."

The Coordinator also stopped in the Central Rift Valley town of Nakuru, Kenya's fourth largest, where gangs armed with machetes attacked residents, razed homes and looted and burned businesses, forcing many to seek refuge in camps.

While in the town, he visited displacement sites at Afraha Stadium and Nakuru Show Ground, where he spoke with some of the 11,000 people from the area are seeking shelter.

Mr. Holmes, who arrived in Kenya yesterday, expressed his appreciation for the cooperation among the communities, the Kenyan Red Cross, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide assistance to IDPs.

"What we now need to consider are the next steps for helping them in the medium term," he noted.

In Molo, one of the most volatile of the Rift Valley's district and the site of 50 displacement camps, the Under-Secretary-General stopped at two IDP settlements and met with inhabitants.

He stressed that no community should be favored over another given the ethnic dimension of the violence. "There is a realization that everybody loses in the end if this continues. Finding a solution is a long-term process but not impossible. It can be done," he noted.

Some 1,000 people have lost their lives and more than 310,000 displaced since last December's elections in which President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner over opposition leader Raila Odinga. In addition, some 12,000 Kenyans have fled to neighbouring Uganda.

The Rift Valley, Nyanza, western provinces and slum areas of the capital Nairobi have been hardest hit by the unrest.

Mr. Holmes will wrap up his mission tomorrow, when he will visit Tigoni and Karathimo, two displacements camps near Nairobi, and meet with senior UN humanitarian officials.