9 January 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by United Nations emergency relief coordinator

to update humanitarian situation in kenya


With roads opening up in and around the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, and the security situation continuing to improve throughout the country, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said today that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was stepping up its efforts to deliver critical relief for up to 255,000 people displaced by last week’s post-election violence.

Though the humanitarian consequences of the violence had been “pretty severe”, OCHA, its partner agencies and non-governmental organizations on the ground had been following the situation very closely, said John Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, as he briefed correspondents at a Headquarters press conference.  The crisis had begun just before the new year, with the declaration that President Mwai Kibaki had won re-election.

“There’s a lot beginning to happen on the ground,” he said, especially as it has become easier to move supplies and people around the country in the past few days.  An initial allocation of $7 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) had just been approved to help the various agencies and non-governmental organizations working in Kenya.  Further allocations would be considered if the crisis continued or worsened in any way.  The bulk of that initial cash infusion would go to traditional areas such as food, health, water, shelter and sanitation.  It would also be used to ensure that protection facilities were in place, with the help of the various agencies responsible for that work.  OCHA was working on a consolidated inter-agency appeal, which would probably be announced early next week, when the results of various ongoing agency assessments were “firmed up”.

The agency was concerned not only by the post-election deaths and injuries, but also by the numbers of people displaced from their homes over the past week and a half, he said.  The Government’s best estimate was that some 255,000 people had been displaced from the slums around Nairobi and other places, including the town of Eldoret and Burnt Forest settlement in Rift Valley Province.  OCHA estimated that nearly half a million people would need assistance in the coming weeks and months.

He said that, while it was not easy to provide more accurate figures since movement throughout the country had only improved during the last two or three days, full assessments by OCHA, other agencies, non-governmental organizations and the Kenya Red Cross were continuing.  Relief workers on the ground would be in a better position to provide more information in the next few days.  Meanwhile, matters had been further complicated because people were still on the move and perhaps seeking to relocate to their ancestral homes or other areas.

The issue was not just about feeding and giving material help, but also trying to protect people, he said, adding:  “In many ways, this is a protection crisis as much as one of humanitarian consequences.”  OCHA remained very concerned, particularly with regard to providing protection for people who had been attacked and driven from their homes “for apparently ethnic reasons”.  To that end, all Kenyan religious figures, politicians, civic and business leaders alike should heed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call to do all they could to prevent violence, especially ethnic violence, and ensure that conditions returned to normal as soon as possible.

With that in mind, he said part of the humanitarian effort in such situations was to promote community reconciliation alongside efforts to deal with trauma in the aftermath, he said, particularly that generally faced by children who had been driven from their homes in such a way.  OCHA had also moved to address the regional dimension of the crisis, as a “steady trickle” of Kenyans fled into neighbouring countries.  Thus far, some 6,000 people were believed to have taken refuge in Uganda and OCHA was trying to address their humanitarian needs, as well as those of people stranded on the Ugandan border.

Overall, OCHA was working very closely with the local Red Cross, a very effective and broad-based organization of some 60,000 volunteers, he said.  Besides reinforcing those efforts, the agency had also been trying to pull together the activities of all other United Nations agencies and major non-governmental organizations.  It was also reinforcing its own staff.

As for the wider United Nations response, he said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was providing sufficient relief supplies from its existing stocks to help some 100,000 people; UNICEF was distributing family kits, as well as food and non-food items for some 100,000 people; and the World Food Programme (WFP) was working throughout the country, assisting people in the Rift Valley, including those living in encampments outside Eldoret and in the slums around Nairobi, where some 12 food distribution points were believed to have been set up.  In all that, OCHA was working very closely with the Government and operations were proceeding “as well as they could be expected to under the circumstances”.

Responding to questions, he said the crisis in Kenya had created a “ripple effect” on the region as a whole, especially with respect to the outward distribution of goods from the port of Mombasa and, to some extent, from Nairobi.  OCHA had been impacted as well, in terms of getting humanitarian supplies to Somalia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Southern Sudan.  That situation had been challenging in the initial days, but while it was not entirely resolved, things had improved significantly in the past few days as roads had opened up and food convoys had been able to move around more freely.  The situation had been a reminder of the entire region’s vulnerability.

The Government had been helpful, even while in the process of formation, he said, noting that OCHA had been dealing with the permanent secretaries of various ministries, many of whom had toured the affected areas.  “The cooperation has been good and I see no reason why it should not continue to be so.”  The Government had been doing some food distribution, but that task was being handled mainly by the Red Cross, “which had the kind of network […] and position of credibility from which to operate”.

Clarifying that the CERF allocation was not being channelled through the Government, he said it would be used directly by United Nations agencies, which might, in some cases, provide allocations to Kenyan non-governmental organizations.

In response to another question, he said the recent $100-a-barrel price of oil had not necessarily affected operations in Kenya, but one of the country’s ongoing challenges was the sharp increase in food prices, in some cases by as much as 50 per cent over the past few years.

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For information media • not an official record