Sunday, January 01, 2006

Starvation in Kenya

It's often been said that democracies never suffer famines. Ever. In fact, Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his research to that effect. "No substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press," he has concluded.

So the question is this: is present-day Kenya the first country to contradict his theory?

Thousands of Kenyans are facing a slow death from starvation, reports Kenya's leading independent newspaper The Nation.

In one district of medical health in the heavily affected north of the country, The most common ailments there are severe respiratory infections, diarrhoea and dehydration, made all the worse by malnutrition, the daily reports.

And although doctors say they have not turned anyone away, and some health centres and dispensaries have been converted into wards, their capacity is limited. So many more are suffering in silence in their homes.

A visit yields in every homestead a child or an adult who is too hungry to walk - and plenty of tears are being spilt for dead animals, but none for the people.

Yesterday, Kenya's president Mwai Kibaki finally declared the famine a national disaster, adding that some 2.5 million Kenyans were at risk over the next six months.

He said crop failure and depletion of livestock herds due to prolonged drought had led to the current famine in the arid areas and promised some 11 billion Kenyan shillings (about US$152 million) for famine relief.

Not all agree. Former Cabinet minister William ole Ntimama said corruption and misuse of public resources was responsible for the famine. He said the country has enough resources to sustain itself, according to an article in The Standard.

President Kibaki has called in the military to offer humanitarian relief to the affected areas.


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