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Kenyan crisis demands both immediate and long-term solutions – UN envoy

Kenyan crisis demands both immediate and long-term solutions – UN envoy

John Holmes, USG for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
International efforts to help Kenya recover from the unrest that started after election results were challenged in December should thoroughly address the root causes of the violence, but must first help resolve the political crisis as a matter of urgency, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official said today.

“If there is no quick resolution to the political crisis, the risk of a fresh surge in violence, more displacement and further polarization of society will be very high,” John Holmes, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council as he briefed them on his visit to the East African country from 8 to 11 February.

“The humanitarian consequences of this could dwarf anything we have seen so far,” he said, noting that some 1,000 people have already lost their lives and more than 300,000 others driven from their homes since elections in which President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner over opposition leader Raila Odinga.

He said he made it clear to Kenyan parties that the full weight of the UN was behind the mediation process, led by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that was attempting to heal the rifts over the election results.

To avoid future violent explosions, however, it is also crucial to address decades-long grievances over land, poverty and wide economic inequalities in a context of strong population growth and limited availability of land, he said.

In addition, he said that political manipulation of land and tribal issues would have to be prevented through constitutional and electoral reform, and that there must be accountability for those responsible for the current violence, human rights abuses and failures to protect civilians.

“I believe the UN can and should play a vital helping role in many of these areas, including programmes to tackle provision of livelihood support, youth employment and reconciliation between communities, building on local initiatives,” he said.

Mr. Holmes also briefed the Council on his visits to camps for displaced persons in the Rift Valley Province. He said most of the basic humanitarian needs there have been reasonably met so far. But he added that a good deal more needs to be done to consolidate sites, build new camps, and increase security and privacy, particularly for women, children and other vulnerable groups.

In that context, he mentioned “disturbing accounts of continuing abuses in and around camps” and “dreadful stories of murder, of rape and burning.”

Unfortunately, he said, displacement and its accompanying abuses will not disappear quickly even if there is a political agreement in the coming days.