Nairobi — Fast action is needed to prevent a hunger "tragedy" in Kenya, three years after its last devastating drought, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Thursday in an appeal for $9.25 million.
The money will be spent on water for humans and livestock, health and nutrition services, school feeding programmes and the distribution of seeds to farmers to plant ahead of expected rains in October, it said.
More than a quarter of children in some areas affected by lack of rain are suffering from malnutrition, and the number of Kenyans needing food aid is expected to rise to 1.5 million over the next six months .
"As we learned in 2011, without immediate action to address Kenya's humanitarian needs and to respond to the warning signs of a crisis in already vulnerable communities, it will lead to tragedy, and we are already very late," Abbas Gullet, Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross Society, said in a statement.
Kenya's annual long rains, between March and May, were poor and food prices are rising due to inflation and higher fuel prices.
Drought is causing increasing hardship across the region, including Somalia. One million Somalis urgently need food aid due to worsening drought and conflict, a 20 percent increase since January, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
The IFRC said the Kenya appeal is for money "to mitigate the situation before it becomes catastrophic" in six priority counties: Baringo, Marsabit, Samburu, Mandera, Isiolo and Garissa. Most are in arid northern Kenya, where nomads roam with livestock.
Close to 650,000 people will benefit from the aid up to June 2015, IFRC spokesman Benoit Carpentier told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Marsabit North and Turkana Central region, 29 percent of children are malnourished, up from 25 percent and 17 percent respectively a year ago, Carpentier said. The emergency threshold for malnutrition is 15 percent.
The government, working with aid agencies, says that 1.5 million Kenyans will need food assistance over the next six months, up from 1.3 million in February, World Food Programme (WFP) regional spokeswoman Challiss McDonough told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The WFP has been feeding one million of those in need.
"We are meeting with the government this week to determine how many of the 1.5 million new caseload will be supported by each of us," McDonough said.
The IFRC said it has been working on speeding up its response to early warning signs since the 2011 drought. "Responding to a disaster once it occurs is no longer good enough," IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy said in the statement.
(Editing by Tim Pearce)