|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
5845th Meeting (AM)
Kenya’s humanitarian needs will have to be addressed for many months,
Even with quick political settlement, Security Council told
Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes Says Consequences
Of No Quick Resolution to Political Crisis Could Dwarf Anything Seen So Far
Major humanitarian needs following post-electoral violence in Kenya would have to be addressed for many months to come and his own office was looking at least a year ahead, even if a quick and effective political settlement of the immediate crisis was found, the United Nations top humanitarian official told the Security Council this morning.
Briefing the Council on his trip to Kenya on 8 to 10 February, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said that the Organization would strengthen its humanitarian presence further and reinforce its work alongside the Kenyan Red Cross on the basis of a strategic analysis of the needs, a clear action plan and contingency planning in case the situation deteriorated. The United Nations would also need to look hard at how to reorient its development programmes for Kenya to reflect the need to deal with deep underlying problems, which had come to the surface.
On the other hand, he emphasized that, if there was no quick resolution to the political crisis, the risk of a fresh surge in violence, more displacement and further polarization of society was high. “The humanitarian consequences of this could dwarf anything we have seen so far.” So, the responsibility of the politicians on all sides was very great, as was the need for continuing strong support from the international community, including the Council.
He said that the first objective of his trip had been to reaffirm United Nations practical support to the Kenyan people and he had made it clear that the full weight of the United Nations was behind the mediation process led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. His other aims had been to assess the humanitarian situation on the ground; make clear to all concerned the Organization’s commitment to completely impartial help for those in need; and to make sure that the humanitarian community was fully prepared for the challenges ahead.
The violence had left around 1,000 people dead and had driven at least 300,000 from their homes, he continued. Over 270,000 people from six of Kenya’s eight provinces remained in some 200 camps and sites in Rift Valley, Nyanza, western, coastal and central provinces. An estimated 500,000 people altogether continued to require emergency assistance. There were also some 12,000 Kenyan refugees in Uganda. Most humanitarian needs in camps and sites had been reasonably met so far. The Kenyan Red Cross Society had led the response, together with relevant government services. The initial strategy of United Nations humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organization partners, who had responded quickly and effectively, had been to support that national response, in a country that did not lack resources or a strong civil society.
In the first chaotic weeks, displaced Kenyans had moved rapidly and unpredictably, driven by violence, threats, fear and rumours. Certain groups had been moving to their tribal homelands, which they considered safer. That greatly complicated providing assistance for all those in need, including host communities. In practice, three main types of displaced had been identified. The first were farmers driven from their land and remaining in camps, churches and police stations. Second were migrant workers from western Kenya, many of whom had returned, at least temporarily, to their ancestral homelands. Third were those living in the slums of the greater Nairobi area, who were now in camps around Nairobi, unsure how to restart their lives.
Rift Valley province had over three quarters of the total displaced in Kenya, he continued. Having visited five sites in Nakuru and Molo, he had been impressed by cooperative efforts of the communities themselves, the Government, the Red Cross, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations to meet immediate needs. However, more remained to be done to consolidate sites, build new camps, increase security and privacy, and upgrade the quality of assistance. The vast majority had left in panic, taking nothing with them, and were reluctant to return because of uncertainly and fear. Many said they wanted to resettle elsewhere, though that posed considerable problems “of both principle and practicality”.
Common for all the displaced groups was their urgent need for safety and security, particularly for women and children, he said. He had heard some dreadful stories of murder, rape and burning. The ethnic basis of much of what had happened was tragically clear. Heightened ethnic awareness and fears had quickly spread through much of Kenyan society, fuelling polarization. Overall, it was clear that the displacement crisis would not disappear quickly, even if there was political agreement in the coming days.
Turning to “particularly sensitive” questions about possible return and resettlement of internally displaced persons, he said that it was natural to want to see as many people as possible return home as soon as possible, but there was a lot to be done in terms of rebuilding confidence and providing reliable security. It was vital to strictly adhere to the principles of impartiality, voluntariness and the need for full consultations with internally displaced persons themselves about their future.
“We are reinforcing our guidelines on these and working with the Government and opposition on the way forward,” he said. He had emphasized those points in meetings with the Government and the opposition. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Special Programmes had acknowledged them and expressed their gratitude for the support of the United Nations and international community. The Secretary-General of the Orange Democratic Movement and his humanitarian team had done likewise, while emphasizing that it was necessary to pay as much attention to those who were not landowners and those who were likely to remain in camps for some time.
Time and political will were needed for real success, he continued. Decades-long grievances over land, poverty and wide economic inequalities needed to be addressed in a context of strong population growth and limited availability of fertile land. Political manipulation of land and tribal issues would have to be prevented in the future, including through constitutional and electoral reform to encourage more equitable representation of different interests in government. There must be accountability for those responsible for violence, abuses of human rights and failures to protect civilians. The United Nations could play a vital helping role in many areas, including livelihood support, youth employment and reconciliation between communities, building on local initiatives.
While in Nairobi, he had spoken to the donor community to remind them that the response to the international humanitarian plan, which had appealed for $42 million, had been only around 60 per cent so far, including a contribution of $7 million from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund. That level of response was a concern. He would be revising the Response Plan in the coming weeks, and he hoped donors would respond generously as the strategy developed.
He also highlighted the considerable regional implications of the crisis, because of Kenya’s longstanding role as East Africa’s main transport hub. That also meant that many aid and humanitarian operations relied on Mombasa and were at risk of being affected by violence and disruptions. Among the secondary effects of violence, he mentioned growing fuel prices in Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. Aid agencies had to look into alternative routes under present circumstances, but a peaceful Kenya remained by far the preferred option. There was a huge amount at stake.
The meeting was called to order at 10:18 a.m. and adjourned at 10:35 a.m.
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