January 8 2008

Humanitarian crisis deepens in Kenya

08/01/2008 - The humanitarian crisis in Kenya - the result of violence after disputed elections - is deepening, especially around the town of Eldoret. Fredrick Ochieng, youth leader coordinator at the SOS Children's Village Eldoret, gives an eye witness account.

Following post-election violence causing over 400 deaths and the displacement of thousands of people, it is feared that the crisis in Kenya could turn into an enormous humanitarian catastrophe unless action is taken soon. At least 200 people have died within the town of Eldoret, where there is an SOS Children's Village, and its environs, and it is estimated that around Eldoret some 54,000 people have fled their homes and are dependent on aid. Country wide it is estimated that over 400 are dead and over 300,000 displaced. Those that haven't fled are also dependent on aid because they cannot move out of their houses due to the insecurity. Rioters are accused of burning villages, killing hundreds of people, and raping women.

Deceptive calm

For the last three days, the situation in Eldoret appears to have stabilized, especially after the government dispatched more security personnel to the region. However, tension is still evident and there are concerns that fighting in parts of the region is sending new waves of internally displaced persons into neighbouring Uganda.

The SOS Children's Village Eldoret has assisted displaced people with firewood and donations of clothes even though the impact of the violence has also been felt in the village. Most shops have remained closed and prices of basic commodities have spiralled since goods have been unable to reach the market. The area is faced with an acute shortage of petrol and kerosene, the latter used for cooking fuel. Some SOS co-workers have themselves experienced displacement and vandalism, seeking refuge in the village. Other members of staff are still marooned in their homes and are unable to report to work due to the collapsed transport system and insecurity. And the youth who reside in the community have been temporarily been moved to the village for their own safety. 

Well wishers have expressed support for the SOS Children's Village through donations. The Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital - Ampath - has been generous enough to donate green groceries for the children. The business community, mainly supermarkets, has been helping the village to purchase items from them at a time when most shops are closed. The village has also received goodwill messages from counterparts in Uganda, Tanzania and Somalia and, Keith Castelino, director of SOS Children's Villages Kenya, has been continually following up on the security situation.

Displaced children face bleak future

Most displaced families have spent the past week in camps where they are surviving with the bare necessities and little more than plastic sheeting for shelter. Children from the displaced families are not able to go to school and face a bleak future if the crisis continues. Additionally, many have become orphans as a result of the violence.

Although some people fled before their villages were attacked, and took some belongings, others fled after their villages were set on fire, so they are left with nothing. Children in these camps are very vulnerable particularly those that have been on anti-retroviral drugs due to HIV/AIDS. 

SOS Children's Villages Kenya is currently looking at ways that they can give emergency relief and, if necessary, longer term care to the women and children who have been displaced, in the form of protection, food, shelter, sanitation, psycho-social support and medical facilities.