Kenyan humanitarian crisis deepens as talks continue
Thursday, February 7, 2008
In Kenya, the government and opposition have resumed talks on the dispute over the elections that sparked a month-long wave of violence. Relief officials say the humanitarian toll continues to rise and are calling for a speedy solution.
Relief officials appealed to political leaders to stabilize security throughout Kenya as the number of people fleeing violence in some parts of the country continued to rise.
A Kenya Red Cross spokesman, Tony Mwangi, says the instability is aggravating the humanitarian crisis. "There are a lot of areas that require immediate assistance in the form of food as well as shelter for freshly displaced people and this is mostly in the western region of the country and a bit of the Rift Valley," Mwangi said.
Nearly 100 people have been killed in the violence in the past several days, mostly in western Kenya. The Red Cross says as a result the death toll has risen to about 1,000 and the number of homeless has grown to more than 300,000.
Mwangi said his organization has provided some assistance to most of the displaced in the country but not enough. He said security was an essential condition for the efficient distribution of aid.
"Our humanitarian response moves a lot faster when security is available. And while the Kenya Red Cross have access to some of the areas that have been affected the speed at which we would like to operate is not the best," Mwangi said.
Mwangi said the best solution is for the displaced to be able to return home where they can receive food rations while their homes and communities are rebuilt. The camps, which are prone to disease, criminality and social problems, are not a long-term solution.
The talks aimed at resolving the Kenyan crisis continued Wednesday. They focused on the disputed December elections that sparked the violence.
The opposition accuses the government of rigging the elections in order to install President Mwai Kibaki for a second term. The government says the opposition should take its objections to the courts.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is overseeing the talks, was joined by two other members of the mediation team, South Africa's former first lady Graca Machel and Tanzania's former president Benjamin Mkapa.
Mr. Mkapa told reporters the talks are progressing at a good pace.
He says the talks show cooperation from both sides and a serious commitment to achieving Kenyans' expectations of living in peace and unity.
Several hundred business leaders Tuesday announced that industrial production had been reduced by 40 percent during the past month. Exports had been hard hit by the paralysis of transportation. And hotel occupancy in tourist areas had fallen from 90 percent to 10 percent.
They forecast that economic growth would decline by several percentage points from its recent rate of more than six percent. They said 400,000 jobs could be lost in the next six months and the country could fall into recession if the crisis continued.