The HC Interview: Kenya
Aeneas Chuma, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator in Kenya, talks about the country’s intensifying drought, humanitarian financing and working with OCHA.
Q: Recent reports state that, during this year, the number of people suffering from food insecurity in East Africa has reached over 8 million, including an increase of some 1.2 million people in Kenya alone. What is happening?
A: These are the same levels we had in 2009. Last year in 2010, there was a fair amount of rainfall as a result of El Nino. So, food production went up and the number of insecure people dropped dramatically - to 1.6 million. But since then we have faced another drought, and the number of people who are food insecure has shot up again. Our working figures now are about 1.2 million.
The drought doesn't just affect rural communities. You also have a significant number of people within urban areas who are also extremely vulnerable. Recent food and fuel price increases have exacerbated the situation of the urban poor.
Q: How is this year different from any other year in East Africa in terms of drought, and food insecurity?
A: What you see now is a pattern in this region that droughts are becoming more frequent. They are much more severe. And they last longer. That’s very important because I think the tendency has been to respond to these phenomena as an aberration. But they are not.
We need long-term solutions. We need structural investments to address drought. To encourage people to diversify their crops, and to diversify their nutritional habits. We cannot prevent drought, but we can prevent famine.
Q: How has the funding of appeals for the region and Kenya specifically progressed during 2011?
A: We launched an Emergency Humanitarian Plan in November 2010 and so far it has subscribed to the tune of $283 million. So I would say donors have been quite generous in supporting this. But the severity of the drought requires that we raise our efforts.
Q: How do you foresee conditions for the affected populations playing out over the remainder of the year if rainfall does not improve?
A: Until we get to the next harvest in October, I think there will a very serious drought situation in this country. We face a population of about 3.2 to 3.5 million who are food insecure. We need to respond to the humanitarian crisis in terms of saving lives and saving livelihoods but we cannot lose sight of the long-term - structural adjustments to the food security and food production sector.
Q: What role does OCHA play for the humanitarian community here in Kenya?
A: OCHA provides secretariat support to the Humanitarian Country Team. We call it the Kenya Humanitarian Partnership Forum. The OCHA office provides information, and analysis to me as Humanitarian Coordinator, as well as the Country Team. So they are extremely valuable in this respect.
Aeneas Chuma is the UN Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator in Kenya.
Reporting by Dan DeLorenzo, OCHA.