Mon, Jan 07, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Health disaster looms in Kenya

HIGH RISK Supplies of food and clean water are running `dangerously low' as an estimated 250,000 people have been displaced by violence since the Dec. 27 election


A devastating health emergency looms in Kenya where an explosion of post-election violence has killed hundreds and displaced a quarter of a million others, British charity Merlin warned yesterday.

Although the government and aid groups are struggling to deliver aid to displaced civilians mainly in the country's western region, the charity warned that humanitarian supplies were dangerously low.

"Food and clean water supplies are now running dangerously low, especially in and around [the western city of] Kisumu," Merlin's Country Director in Kenya Wubeshet Woldermariam said in a statement.

"People are being forced to drink unsafe water, risking diarrheal diseases, infection and dehydration. The longer the crisis continues, the greater the risk to people's health," he said.

"If peace isn't restored within the next few days, disease outbreaks and severe dehydration are very real threats," the charity warned.

At least 361 people have been killed in poll-related violence since election day on Dec. 27, according to a tally compiled by AFP from hospitals, police and mortuaries.

The UN estimates that the chaos may have displaced 250,000 Kenyans, some 100,000 of whom need immediate help in the western Rift Valley region.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has pledged to provide aid.

Local aid workers fear an outbreak of diseases in crowded make-shift camps in schools, hospitals and churches, most of which were still out of reach owing to their inaccessibility or safety concerns.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said lack of security as well as roadblocks set up by vigilante groups have barred food trucks from the port city of Mombasa from reaching their destination.

"At the moment we have not had a problem in food distribution but if this situation continues then food will not get delivered on time," a WFP spokesman said in a statement.

The government has instructed the military to escort trucks delivering supplies to avoid highway ambushes.

The UN Children's Fund said many hospitals in the disaster zones were in need of medical supplies to treat a wide range of injuries and conditions.

"Supplies and staff are needed to treat victims of shooting, burning, beating, slashing and trampling," said Sara Cameron, the agency's communication officer in Kenya.

The agency is working to reduce malnutrition among the displaced in the worst-affected areas and setting up so-called "safe spaces" for displaced mothers and children.

Meanwhile the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that about 5,000 Kenyans have fled to Uganda, where they live in schools, churches and with relatives while an unconfirmed number have also left for Tanzania.

On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross appealed for 15 million Swiss francs (US$13 million) from donors to deal with the unprecedented crisis in the east African nation.

Violence exploded in Kenya last Sunday after the country's electoral panel declared President Mwai Kibaki winner of hotly contested Dec. 27 elections, but his main rival, opposition chief Raila Odinga, said the result was fixed.

Kibaki on Saturday offered to form a national unity government in a bid to defuse the violence, but Odinga stood by his demands for him to resign to pave the way for dialogue.

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