NAIROBI (AlertNet) - In some drought-prone parts of northern Kenya, the majority of the population relies on food aid to survive – sometimes for decades.
AlertNet’s Katy Migiro asked the World Food Programme’s regional information officer Challiss McDonough what the world’s largest humanitarian agency is doing to change this situation.
Q: Why do you keep giving people food aid, year in, year out?
A: The current situation was decades in the making and cannot be repaired overnight. We cannot just simply cut off general food distributions all at once – changing the system is a process that takes time.
Q: How much does it cost WFP to feed more than two million Kenyans?
A: The plan is for about 1.25 million people to get general food distributions while the rest get other forms of assistance -- food or cash for working on asset-creation projects, as well as specialised nutritional support for malnourished mothers and children.
An additional 230,000 will be assisted by the government.
WFP’s budget for our recovery operation in 2012 is $235 million. That only covers the activities described above. It does not cover school meals, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis programmes or assistance to refugees.
Q: Why are one in 20 Kenyans unable to feed themselves?
A: Many people are still recovering from last year’s drought. Rainfall in much of northeastern and southeastern Kenya has been poor this year as well.
Q: What is WFP doing to end food aid dependency?
A: Since 2009, we have been reducing the role of general food distributions and increasing our support for asset-creation projects that help families and communities build better, more sustainable livelihoods and become better able to cope with droughts or other natural disasters.
We plan to continue shifting our assistance programmes almost entirely to this kind of asset-creation work in the coming years. It’s important to do that carefully, in a way that doesn’t create new problems for the poorest and most vulnerable communities.
Q: Can projects like Food For Assets ever be much more than window dressing given that drought wipes out people’s animals and crops every few years in Kenya?
A: These projects are not window dressing -- far from it, they will become the core of our food assistance programmes in Kenya’s arid lands.
These asset-creation projects are already making a difference in thousands of peoples’ lives. In countries like Ethiopia where this approach is more advanced, many people have graduated completely from assistance programmes, even in drought-prone regions.
There are many arid parts of the world where people manage to successfully grow crops and raise livestock – where they have resources, training and infrastructure to make it possible.
Q: Are humanitarians really able to address the problem given it is rooted in much deeper issues, like poverty and conflict?
A: You must address the root causes and humanitarian agencies cannot do that by themselves. It takes a joint effort by everyone, including governments, civil society, aid agencies and, most importantly, communities themselves.