January 7, 2008
Kenya's Violence Wanes, Need for Aid Rises
Despite today's news that Friday will likely bring negotiation talks, countless Kenyans still await food, shelter.
As the explosive violence following Kenya's disputed elections appears to be cooling, a humanitarian crisis is left in its wake. About 250,000 Kenyans have fled their homes to escape violence. In the country's western Rift Valley region alone, the scene of some of the country's most horrific bloodshed, about 100,000 people need immediate assistance, including food and clean water.
"People are being forced to drink unsafe water, risking diarrhoeal diseases, infection and severe dehydration," said Wubeshet Woldermariam, country director for the U.K.-based aid organization Merlin. "The longer the crisis continues, the greater the risk to people's health. If peace isn't restored within the next few days, disease and severe dehydration are very real threats."
Woldermariam's warning comes amid today's hopeful news that there will be negotiation talks this Friday between Kenya's incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, and opposition leader, Raila Odinga, who claims the Dec. 27 election was rigged.
Over the weekend, the two men were urged toward negotiation by Ghanaian president John Kufuor, top U.S. official for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others. Today, Kibaki invited Odinga to his residence to discuss ways to solve the election standoff and quell violence. His invitation came only hours after Odinga cancelled nationwide protest rallies slated for Tuesday, which were expected to exacerbate violence.
"The only way to restore the Kenyan people's rights and confidence in the system is that the political leaders have to stop the violence, because innocent people are dying," said Ms. Frazer, according to the BBC. "They've been cheated by their political leadership and their institutions."
A statement released today by Kenya's Ministry of Special Programs puts the election-related death toll at 486.
Yesterday, January 6, trucks deployed by the U.N. World Food Program carried 670 tons of food to the capital city of Nairobi, and to Eldoret, a Rift Valley town near Kiambaa, where last week 30 people were burned to death inside the Kenya Assemblies of God Church after it was set ablaze by rioters. Only miles away from last week's blaze, some 9,000 Kenyans have found shelter from gang-related violence in Eldoret's Sacred Heart Cathedral. Hundreds are being added to their ranks daily.
In a letter reprinted in U.K.'s Daily Mail, Sacred Heart Bishop Cornelius Corir reported on the scene:
"These are not poor famine victims looking for food or refugees fleeing a war zone. They are ordinary, hard-working people who have, overnight, lost everything they had. Among them are teachers, farmers, taxi drivers, and other people with small businesses. All are now destitute - burned out of their homes and told by machete-wielding youths either to leave or be killed. . . . Of course, the wounds will take a very long time to heal. Yet I am still hopeful. My faith and belief in my countrymen makes me very confident we shall overcome the darkness that has fallen over this land."