25 August 2009The United Nations food agency today issued a warning that Kenya faces a dire hunger crisis due to failed rains, appealing today for $230 million to feed nearly 4 million Kenyans – nearly one-tenth of the African nation’s population – over the next six months. “Red lights are flashing around the country,” said Burkard Oberle, Kenya director of the World Food Programme (WFP). “People are already going hungry, malnutrition is preying on more and more young children, cattle are dying – we face a huge challenge and are urging the international community to provide us with the resources we need to get the job done,” he added.WFP is currently distributing 2.6 million drought-affected Kenyans with food aid and hopes to increase that number by 1.2 million.Many parts of Kenya have experienced three or even four consecutive seasons of failed rains, and conditions are expected to deteriorate, with the Government projecting the main maize harvest to fall nearly one-third below the five-year average. In addition, pasture and water for livestock is quickly dwindling.The hardest-hit Kenyans have taken drastic measures, such as reducing the number of meals each day, eating cheaper and less nutritious food, migrating to urban centres and taking on massive debt.Acute malnutrition rates among children under the age of five are over 20 per cent in some areas, well above the 15 per cent emergency threshold.“Life has never been easy for the poor in Kenya, but right now conditions are more desperate than they have been for a decade,” Mr. Oberle said. “WFP is aiming to help almost 1 in every 10 Kenyans to cope wit this serious crisis but we can’t do it without money.”The agency also hopes the influx of funds will allow it to expand its school feeding programme by 100,000 to reach almost 1.2 million children. The Kenyan Government provides schools meals to some 500,000 more young people through its own scheme.Across the Horn of Africa, WFP is facing funding shortfalls, including over $160 million for Somalia and nearly $100 million for Ethiopia.Last month, the agency’s Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, warned that millions of hungry people around the world will not receive food aid from due to a “dangerous and unprecedented” $3 billion budget shortfall this year.WFP is hoping to reach 108 million people in 74 countries this year with food aid, but it expects to receive only $3.7 billion of the $6.7 billion needed for 2009.