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Kenya: a long-term effort needed for victims of violence

17-01-2008 Feature

With the political situation in Kenya still tense, the humanitarian consequences of the post-election violence persist and the people affected remain in need of ongoing support. The Kenya Red Cross and the ICRC are preparing to help for the long term.

   

  ©ICRC/Bernard Barrett / KE-E-00158    
 
Kenya Red Cross Society volunteers distribute essential household items such as blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans and soap to residents of the Gambogi camp for displaced persons in Vihiga.    
     

Tens of thousands of people are in pressing need of Red Cross protection and assistance, both now and in the longer term. These include people who fled their homes as well as those who remained behind; both live in a climate of hostility and fear.

“You have families who ran away from a situation of violence, not always together, not always with their children,” explains Pascal Cuttat, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation in Nairobi. Apart from immediate help, he says, they will need support in finding relatives who have been separated from them.

It’s an issue of concern tragically familiar from other African crises – children on their own, away from their families. “These are unaccompanied minors, who have either been left behind or are with relatives or even people they didn't know before,” says Cuttat.

There is also the problem of mortal remains that are unclaimed – and in many cases unidentified – in morgues. “We need to ensure these people do not become just numbers and listed as missing, that their families will eventually be able to get some closure.

“We are recording the bodies in a file which the family will eventually be able to consult if they are still searching for relatives.”

Displaced people have gathered in large groups. “The situation is particularly difficult for the people currently in the Rift Valley. They gather in tens of thousands. They need food, water, health support, shelter,” adds Pascal Cuttat.

 Hostile environment  

“These people are at risk, and need protection, as they are in the middle of a hostile environment, grouped in big numbers and exposed.”

Beyond the immediate needs of the people and the difficulties facing the Red Cross in meeting them, the humanitarian problems seem set to remain for months, with large numbers of people displaced, villages and crops destroyed or left to rot, a local economy in ruins.

But the security question is uppermost in people’s minds. Effo rts will be needed by both the authorities, community leaders and humanitarian organisations to reassure people and enable them to return to some semblance of normal life.

Yasmin Praz-Dessimoz, head of the ICRC’s operations at Kisumu, in the west of the country, says some of the displaced are still on the move, leaving the area and going to other regions of Kenya. Some are going back to their ancestral places of origin in Western province.

Going anywhere is difficult because of the lack of available transport, after fuel supplies were cut because of the violence. Many who wish to travel are, for the moment, simply unable to.

 Reaching isolated villages  

While the first priority was to meet the needs of the displaced, in terms of food, water and sanitation, Red Cross teams have now been able to reach isolated villages. “For example in one area, we have helped improve the water supply and this is for the residents and the displaced people in the area”, says Ms. Praz-Dessimoz.

Looking ahead, she sees the need for continuing help: “Hopefully, if the situation stabilizes, then the displaced people would go back to their region of origin and they might even go back to the place they had to flee from and then slowly the situation can return to normal.”

In the meantime, many of the displaced will need help finding new shelter, even before they can think of going home. “Some of these displaced people have been accommodated in schools and police stations; as the school year has started, some of them will have to be moved out and new places found,” says Christophe Beney, in charge of ICRC activities in the Rift Valley region, based in Eldoret.

 Need for security  

“People would love to go back home but there is still a high sense of insecurity,” says Beney. “What is most important now for these people is that security is restored by the Kenyan authorities so that people have confidence to go back.

“Most of these people are displaced and, as you can see when flying over the region, a lot of homes have been burned down. Later on, a huge humanitarian effort will be needed, to allow reconstruction to begin.”