Drought leaves 2.5m Kenyans close to starvation

Last updated at 17:22 15 January 2006

Millions of Kenyans are teetering on the edge of starvation because of a severe drought, their plight worsened by corrupt officials stealing and selling sacks of food aid, analysts say.

The government says the lack of rains for three straight years has left 2.5 million people close to starvation, prompting President Mwai Kibaki to declare the drought a national disaster and appeal for $150 million to feed the hungry.

Police raids on shops in the northeast town of Garissa and the arrests of traders have confirmed that many responsible for handing out aid have been stealing and selling it.

"Of course, we are concerned when we hear about people stealing food from the mouths of those who are hungry," said Osman Gure Yusuf, community development officer with the Arid Lands Resource Management Project for Wajir district.

"If there is any misappropriation by chiefs or councilors, it won't be tolerated."

While the response to appeals has been slow, aid agencies say the theft of food aid shows the need for distribution to be better monitored to save lives and reassure foreign donors.

The Daily Nation newspaper called for traders found guilty of selling relief food to be prosecuted.

"Nothing demonstrates the shamelessness of corruption in our society more than the fact that those selling the food aid did not even bother to remove the 'Government of Kenya relief - not for sale' labels on the bags," it said in Saturday's editorial.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua was not immediately available for comment.