The number of Kenyans who will need food aid due to drought will rise to 3.5 million by September, the United Nations said on Tuesday, while European officials warned such crises would flare up again unless more money was directed at prevention efforts.
Some 11.6 million people are going hungry in the "triangle of death" that straddles Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, with pockets of famine existing in rebel-controlled southern Somalia, adding pressure on donors to respond to the hunger crisis.
"The most affected districts are in northern and northeastern Kenya, where food insecurity is expected to reach crisis levels in August and September," Aeneas Chuma, the U.N.'s Humanitarian Coordinator for Kenya, told a news conference following an assessment of the drought-hit areas.
Kenya, where some 2.4 million are now going hungry, declared the drought a national disaster in late May while the U.N. has categorised the situation in east Africa's largest economy as an emergency, one level short of a famine.
The U.N. World Food Programme said it was at present giving aid to 1.7 million people needing help, while the government is targeting another 800,000.
The U.N.'s humanitarian office has said its $605 million appeal for Kenya was only 52 percent funded, with a U.N. emergency fund releasing $13.5 million on Tuesday.
"PREVENTION IS NOT SEXY"
The region experiences recurring droughts, which are becoming increasingly severe due to climate change.
The solutions are well-known among development experts, such as investing in dams to harvest rain water and reducing livestock herds when poor rains are predicted.
"We have to invest much more in countries that are vulnerable to drought," said the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva.
"Droughts are going to come again and again."
In the northern district of Moyale, child malnutrition rates are half those of neighbouring districts thanks to investment in drought preparedness, Georgieva said.
At a cost of $20, it is ten times cheaper to identify and treat children who are at risk of malnutrition before they reach a critical state than to pay for life-saving therapeutic care.
"Prevention is not sexy. This is fundamentally what the problem is," she said.
"If out of this drought, we come with a commitment to look into the long term structural factors --if we are brave enough to talk about population growth, if we are brave enough to talk about adaptation to climate change -- then the people who are dying are not dying for nothing."
While pastoralist communities have lost their animals to the drought, those living in urban slums are also struggling to buy food as the price of staple items has soared.
"A shortage of maize and beans has led to price increases in urban areas where poverty levels are high, and communities are susceptible to other vulnerabilities," Chuma said.
The U.N. said the estimated food shortfall for the next six months was 103,000 tonnes and valued at $91 million, figures which could rise after a more detailed assessment in August.
The drought has also affected electricity supplies. Kenya Power said on Monday daily power cuts would start later in the week, partly due to reduced water levels at hydro dams.