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Kenya faces own food crisis

As the media focus on Somalia’s famine, and the starving refugees flooding across the border to Kenya, Kenya itself is close to famine.

Last month, the United Nations declared a famine in two southern areas of Somalia. And hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled or are on the move to try and find food and shelter in northern Kenya.

But northern Kenya, where there are 385,000 malnourished children and 90,000 starving pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, is nearing its own catastrophe.

These too are victims of East Africa’s worst drought in 60 years, which has plunged some 12 million people towards starvation in a bunch of Horn of Africa countries including Somalia, Djibouti and Uganda.

The first delivery of food aid since the famine was declared just over a week ago arrived in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Wednesday. And in Dadaab, near Kenya's border with Somalia, where almost 400,000 people are trying to make a home in a camp which is at nearly four times its capacity, there are many charities willing to help and hundreds of TV cameras from around the world.

But the plight of people in Turkana, Kenya’s most north western district is getting overlooked. Serious malnutrition in Turkana, near the Ethiopian border, already affects about 38 per cent of the population. That figure only needs to hit 30 per cent to be classed as a famine. But the area is so cut off that it is hard to confirm the other criteria needed to officially be recognised as a famine. Government officials there say no Kenyans have yet died in the drought, but the death rate is uncertain.

Nine hours' drive from Nairobi, the Dadaab refugee camp is in relatively easy reach of Kenya’s capital. But Kenya's hungry are scattered across an isolated region more than 24 hours away from its capital. Some 37,000 people – most of whom are going hungry – are spread across Kenya's largest district: 35,000sqkm of harsh, inaccessible land.

And even though the government and aid agencies are waking up to Kenya’s problem, terrible roads make delivering aid painfully slow. Even health facilities have run out of food.

Aid is more focused on the refugee influx from Somalia; Turkana is not taken care of, said Dr U Aye Maung form the medical charity, Merlin. “The malnutrition rate here is one of the worst in the world. The death rates could be huge,” he told The Independent on Sunday. “We have no idea, because we get records only when they come to services."

Hayley attribution