(This is a statement by Prime Minister Raila Odinga delivered in Parliament on July 27 addressing the government’s interventions on the current drought and famine)
Once again, I stand before this House to explain the situation in regard to the drought and famine ravaging our country. I particularly want to highlight what the Government has done and will continue to do. I stand to categorically state that if the government had not acted with the speed and organisation that it has so far, this country and this region would be staring a worse crisis than is being witnessed.
The entire Horn of Africa is afflicted by drought, believed to be the most severe in more than half a century. In my statement today, I shall review government action to address the humanitarian crisis, the refugee situation, and national security.
More than nine million people in the Horn’s six countries now live with desperate hunger. This humanitarian crisis is compounded by high global food prices and insecurity.
The situation in Somalia also has major and direct implications for Kenya and its national security. Because of the lack of food in that country, the influx of Somali refugees has risen sharply, with about 1,400 arriving daily at the Dadaab complex.
I visited Dadaab two weeks ago. Refugees arrive in extremely poor health. Nearly half the children are severely malnourished.
The three existing camps – Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera – were built in the early 1990s to accommodate 90,000 people. They now house four times as many. About 65,000 live in makeshift tents on the camps’ outskirts.
Because of overcrowding, refugees move in and out of the camps, adversely affecting the livelihood of Kenyans in the neighbourhood. This also poses security risks.
The malnutrition and overcrowding in the camps must therefore be urgently addressed. It is for this reason that I directed the opening of Ifo II, a camp built by UNHCR to accommodate 40,000 refugees.
Nevertheless, if the refugee situation is not to undermine our national security, additional steps must be taken. The government is therefore proposing that feeding camps be set up urgently within Somalia, to absorb many who are in Dabaab and to accommodate new refugees.
As regards the drought, I regret but we are not expecting a major reprieve in the next few months. The Western area and the Lake Victoria basin are expected to receive near-normal rainfall but Central Rift Valley and the Coast will probably get less. The rest of the country is predicted to remain dry.
The government is taking steps to address drought and food security. It has directed that half-a-million bags of maize be released from the strategic reserves for famine relief.
Secondly, the government has removed import duty on wheat and maize for six months. The NCPB has been directed to provide its storage facilities to private millers to facilitate their imports.
The Government of Japan is bringing in about 41,000 tons of white maize, on a grant basis, for sale on the market. The first consignment of 10,000 tons is expected to arrive in Mombasa next week. The last shipment should arrive by the end of August.
These measures together should significantly ease the shortages that we are experiencing currently.
The Government is also expanding famine relief for the four million people currently on our relief programme.
The monthly allocation of maize has been doubled from 100,000 bags to 200,000. Monthly allocations of rice and beans have also been doubled.
The government is increasing mitigation measures involving famine relief, water and irrigation, livestock, education, health, agriculture and the development of northern Kenya and arid and semi-arid areas.
These interventions are estimated to cost Sh10.9 billion.
We shall be holding in Nairobi an international conference on Food and the Refugee Crisis in the Horn of Africa, towards the end of next month. The aim is to seek a substantial increase in commitments to fund the humanitarian crisis, and to agree on more permanent solutions to the Somali refugee situation.
The government will organise this conference over the course of next week or two, in close consultations with the countries in the Horn of Africa, key international institutions and major donor countries.
We have already received a positive response from some of the developed countries.
We expect that the conference will be attended by the six nations of the Horn of Africa, the United Nations, the UNHCR, the World Food Programme and other international institutions, as well as representatives of developed countries.
Over the past decade, Kenya has suffered drought almost every other year. Each time, we have responded with similar emergency measures. Each time, the government has proposed programmes intended to ensure sustainable solutions. Yet our situation grows worse.
We must not allow this to continue. It is critical that we act now, so that the nation is fully prepared, even if the coming short rains prove inadequate.
Even as we respond to this immediate crisis, we need to focus also on dealing with underlying causes. Today’s drought may be the worst in decades. But with the effects of Climate Change being increasingly felt throughout world, it will surely not be the last.
This means practical measures: drought-resistant seeds, irrigation, rural infrastructure, livestock programmes and conservation of the environment.
I call on Members of Parliament to work with the Executive to tackle this issue head-on.