WFP says there is no famine in Kenya but emergency food crisis

A severely malnourished Somali child receives treatment at southern Mogadishu’s Banadir hospital this week. Warnings that famine could spread across all of southern Somalia are getting louder.

What you need to know:

  • WFP says food crisis is due to high commodity prices

The World Food Programme has declared the famine in Somalia a catastrophe.

Some Sh52. 2 billion is needed to secure more than three million people facing starvation, the UN body said.

But it reckons that Kenya is not experiencing famine. According to the WFP, Kenya is facing “emergency food shortage” and high commodity prices which have gone up by 70 per cent and 240 per cent in Somalia.

The emergency in Kenya was caused by drought. Drought, a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall can also result in famine. But can the Kenyan situation be described as famine?

The WFP says, drought is extreme, widespread scarcity which may lead to malnutrition and death through starvation. For a condition of emergency food shortage to be classified as famine, it must be widespread and dire.

A WFP top relief official said on Monday that although the number of Kenyans in need of emergency food aid is continuing to grow, the country is not facing the threat of famine “at this moment.”

Ms Valerie Amos, the under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, however said there was famine in southern Somalia which has led to the influx of refugees into Kenya.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) describes the situation in Northern Kenya pastoral areas as a “food security emergency.”

The network says the next short rains are expected at the end of October and food shortage will likely deepen unless there is urgent intervention.

Besides natural causes such as rain failure, famine can be a result of political and economic factors such as war.

Famine may also occur in a situation where food is available in the markets but at prices are too high for those in need. This was the case in the Welo Province famine of Ethiopia (1972–74), where food was available in the markets but at unaffordable rates.

Fewnet says 3.5 million Kenyans suffer from food shortage, an estimated 1.2 million people are at emergency level and unable to meet basic needs.

An additional 2 million pastoralists and marginal agricultural farmers are in crisis category while 300,000 people are stressed.

Those in the stress level are in better condition compared to those in crisis and emergency levels in that order of severity.