Most of the people who fled political violence in Kenya's Rift Valley Province, the country's breadbasket, are farmers and their displacement during harvest season is expected to undermine national food security, humanitarian officials said.
According to Augusta Abate, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) assistant representative for Kenya, 75 percent of the estimated 300,000 people displaced from the Rift Valley have become destitute.
"They have lost their tools, livestock, seed and fertiliser," she told IRIN, adding that the unrest erupted at a time when farmers in the region would be harvesting and preparing the land for planting before the long rains in March and April. FAO has sent teams to the affected areas to assess the extent of the problem as the agency prepares to assist the farmers once calm is restored, she added.
The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) warned that the political crisis was likely to cause severe food insecurity in both rural and urban areas.
"Nearly 20 percent (300,000 tonnes) of the maize crop in the country's uni-modal, long-rains dependent grain-basket had not been harvested at the onset of the crisis. Some of this maize is likely to be lost after households fled their farms," FEWS Net stated in a report released on 10 January.
Maize is Kenya's staple food and price increases due to diminished production in the Rift Valley highlands, where most of the cereal is grown, will hurt consumers countrywide, according to FEWS Net. The agency said that urban dwellers were already paying 80 shillings (US$1.20) for 2kg of maize meal instead of the normal 50 shillings (74 US cents) because of the unrest.
The violence also affected milk delivery to factories, leading to shortages and price hikes. Livestock theft was widespread during the violence and dairy farmers in areas hit by the unrest will need help to resume milk production, according to Abate.
"Even if the unrest ends soon, it is unlikely that the displaced will be able to resettle immediately as most have lost their homes and productive assets," according to FEWS Net. "While the GoK [Government of Kenya] and aid agencies will likely avert a catastrophe in the short term, it is probable that food insecurity will remain extremely high for households that have been displaced, until they resettle into their normal productive activities," it added.
Some residents of towns where businesses were looted or burnt would also find themselves out of work and therefore unable to feed themselves and their families. The cities of Kisumu and Mombasa experienced most of the looting and arson attacks at the height of the violence on 31 December and 1 January.
Job losses have also been reported in Kenya's lucrative tourism sector, with massive tour cancellations following the upheaval.
Hotels and resorts along the Indian Ocean coastline are reporting bed occupancy rates of 25-35 percent instead of the 80-100 percent typical of this peak time, according to Rose Musonye-Kwena, spokeswoman for the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB).
"If the situation does not normalise, some of them could soon be closing down," she told IRIN.
Kenya's tourism industry employs 250,000 people directly and another 500,000 indirectly, she said, adding that its collapse could have far-reaching repercussions throughout the economy, with the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people at risk.
KTB has already revised projected January 2008 earnings down from 6.8 billion shillings ($101.4 million) to 2.5 billion shillings ($37.2 million).
Political unrest erupted in many parts of western Kenya on 30 December 2007, immediately after the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared incumbent President Mwai Kibaki the winner of the election held on 27 December. Kibaki's main challenger, Raila Odinga, rejected the result and claimed he won the election, alleging it was rigged in Kibaki's favour.
Ethnic groups perceived to have supported Kibaki have borne the brunt of the violence, mostly in areas of Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces where they are minorities. Residents of those areas voted overwhelmingly for Odinga.
Kenyan authorities have reported that at least 486 people died in the violence, but unofficial sources have put the death toll at about 600.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions