Nairobi — The Kenyan government hopes to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by giving cash handouts to up to 3.3 million of its poorest people, hit by drought and unemployment, over the next few years, following a $250 million World Bank loan announced on Tuesday.
Aid agencies have long lobbied for the expansion of social safety net programmes, which give cash to families in crisis when they cannot afford to eat or send their children to school.
While Kenya has experienced strong economic growth over the last decade 38 percent of Kenyans live in poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. Many live in rural areas, but there is a growing problem of hunger in urban slums because jobs are scarce and all food has to be bought.
"The new national social safety net is a brilliant investment, as it will help families break the cycle of poverty in which they may have been trapped for generations," Diarietou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Kenya, said in a statement.
"Being cushioned against devastating income losses by a small but regular transfer of money from the programme helps poor people afford consistent nutrition and healthcare, and keeps children in school."
The British government-funded Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) has been providing cash transfers of 2,100 Kenya shillings ($25) to 60,000 households in northern Kenya every six weeks since 2009.
Its supporters argue that it has proved successful during emergencies, like the 2011 drought, because it enabled a faster response. Payments to registered beneficiaries were increased to 4,300 Ksh during the drought.
This makes the humanitarian response cheaper as people do not sink into destitution and sickness while waiting for aid.
Many believe the safety net is also less vulnerable to corruption than traditional food aid. Payments are made using a smart card, which contains the beneficiary's name, photo and fingerprints.
The national safety net will merge and expand upon five existing programmes which target orphans and vulnerable children, older people, the disabled, the urban poor (Urban Food Subsidy Cash Transfer) and those living in arid northern areas (the Hunger Safety Net Programme).
Safety nets have proved successful in reducing extreme hunger and poverty in neighbouring Ethiopia and Rwanda.
At least one million Kenyans have been on food assistance for the last 13 years, sometimes as many as four million.