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Kenya: relief efforts are maintained, but situation still unstable

06-02-2008 Interview

Amid political moves to end the violence of the past six weeks, the ICRC has warned that the humanitarian situation remains volatile. The head of delegation in Kenya, Pascal Cuttat, outlines what the Red Cross has done – and the challenges ahead.

  ©ICRC/P. Yazdi/ke-e-00173    
  A young woman in front of her tent at Eldoret camp.    

  ©ICRC/P. Yazdi/ke-e-00160    
  Kakamega Police station. A Kenyan Red Cross volunteer provides clean water to the displaced who took refuge in the station.    

  Pascal Cuttat    
     What has the Red Cross done so far?  

The Kenya Red Cross (KRCS) is the official chief coordinator of the relief effort and the ICRC is working to support its work. The Red Cross has been distributing food (from the World Food Programme, private donors and the government), clothing donated by Kenyans, and essential household items.

In the camps, it is working with a variety of UN agencies and other NGOs to ensure proper camp management and services and has organized water and sanitation facilities. It has arranged medical clinics and psycho-social support.

The ICRC tracing agency is helping to reunite families who were separated during the events, with a particular focus on unaccompanied children and the elderly. It also meets regularly with government and other authorities to raise issues of humanitarian concern and to urge them to take appropriate action.

 What has been the ICRC's specific contribution?  

Since the beginning of the crisis, the ICRC has been working closely with its counterparts at the KRCS, both in the field and at headquarters, providing technical assistance and expertise. Specifically, it has:

  • provided 16 metric tons of a nutritional supplement (known as BP-5);

  • delivered 16,500 kits of household items as well as 15,000 tarpaulins to be used as tents; 

  • dispatched water and sanitation equipment;

  • provided medical kits to treat 350 wounded patients, and 300 additional kgs of medical material and consumables;

  • sent surgical and forensic teams to help hospitals in the affected regions organize procedures for dealing with the crisis.

It has deployed full time ICRC staff (expatriate and Kenyan) to work with KRCS in Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru and Bungoma and has deployed 13 trucks and trailers and 17 light vehicles, as well as two ICRC planes and a helicopter which form the backbone of the Red Cross operations in Kenya.


 What is the role of your forensic experts? (Will they determine how many were killed by police or others?)  


The forensics experts worked with officials at the morgues in Eldoret, Nakuru Naivasha, and Molo at the request of the Ministry of Health, to help them set up systems to deal with the large influx of bodies. A forensic expert will be available to work with morgue officials in other affected communities during the coming weeks. The forensic experts focus in particular on issues of ensuring proper identification of bodies, either because they were badly disfigured (burn victims) or the bodies may have to be buried before they have been identified by family. The ICRC is involved in this kind of work on a worldwide basis as part of its concern that families learn the fate of loved ones, that they are able to begin the grieving process, and that the identification itself be done in a manner which is the least stressful possible for the family. 

 Why did you feel the need to send surgical teams?  


The surgical teams were dispatched at the request of local hospital authorities and the Ministry of Health. A surgeon was sent to Eldoret's Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital on January 1 to help cope with the sudden influx of patients there from the violence immediately following the announcement of the election results (burning of Church). He not only performed operations, but assisted local hospital authorities with the establishment of systems such as triage, to cope with the sudden arrival of a large number of wounded. A second team was later sent to the Moi hospital in Eldoret to help with more difficult cases such as burn victims and wounds with co mplications. They remained there for close to three weeks and left behind skin graft and other more advanced equipment. The third team travelled to Naivasha and Nakuru providing local medical personnel with whatever assistance was required. The ICRC also provided these hospitals with pharmaceuticals, dressings and other material required to treat people wounded in the violence. The ICRC has also set up a flying surgical team available on short notice to provide temporary assistance as required in case of a sudden influx of wounded patients.


 How many people have been displaced?  

The most recent numbers provided by the Kenya Red Cross indicate that about 270,000 people are currently in camps in the Rift Valley, Western Province, Nyanza, Central Province and in the areas around Nairobi. However, the situation fluctuates greatly: new incidents of violence cause additional displacement, while a calming of the situation incites those displaced to move to safer areas, either larger camps or outside the affected regions.

 Are the displaced being properly assisted?  

By the middle of January, initial distributions of food and essential household items had been completed to all the large gatherings of displaced persons. When the violence escalated at that point, there was a new wave of displacements, in many cases requiring the establishment of new camps in different areas. Distributions are ongoing, as is the work of ensuring proper water and sanitation facilities in these camps.

 Has the Red Cross been able to move freely in the affected areas, do you have access to those in need?  


Because of the long-standing work of the Kenya Red Cross, the Red Cross emblem is well known and respected throughout the country. Apart from a few tense incidents, Red Cross staff and supplies have been able to move about since the first days of the violence and reach those in need of our assistance.

 What are the biggest challenges you are facing?  

The situation is still very fluid, with new incidents in different parts of the Rift Valley, Western Province and Nyanza region as well as the possibility of renewed wider scale violence. There is the possibility of further groups being displaced, as well as the ongoing movement of those already displaced.

This will demand constant flexibility on our part. It is difficult to plan assistance when it is not clear how long people are likely to stay in a given place.

 In late January, the ICRC warned of inter-ethnic violence spiralling out of control – what led you to do that?  


The ICRC decided to publicly express its deep concern about the situation, following a series of attacks, reprisals and counter-reprisals that began in mid-January. The ICRC was, and remains, concerned that these inter-ethnic attacks would invite further violence in the form of even more reprisals and hatred amongst communities.

Furthermore, these incidents were of a particularly gruesome nature and appeared to be spreading geographically. That is why the ICRC felt the need to call publicly on all leaders at the national and local levels to do everything possible to ensure the respect of human life and dignity.