Written by Ivy Ndiewo, Communication and Documentation Officer, Concern Worldwide
With less than a week to go before the first election under Kenya’s new constitution, fear and speculation are at an all-time high that what happened in 2008 could be repeated, even escalated. The results of the last general election in late 2007 were immediately disputed, and soon the nation exploded into weeks of political and ethnic violence, leaving over 500,000 people displaced and more than 1,500 killed. I remember those grim days like they were yesterday.
The violence that erupted in 2008 caught the whole world off-guard, including the humanitarian community that then had to launch into an emergency response from scratch. Today, humanitarian organizations, including Concern Worldwide, are working with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Kenya’s National Disaster Operations Center to set up contingency plans if civil unrest sweeps across the country as it did in 2008.
The contingency plan is now finalized with eight humanitarian hubs set up strategically across the country. Concern Worldwide is leading the Nairobi humanitarian hub, and over the past weeks and months, we have gone through a simulation exercise to work out any kinks in the way we work with other humanitarian organizations to respond to needs as they unfold. We have mapped out potential hot spots and trained our staff so that we fully understand what our roles and responsibilities are, individually and as a team, if Kenya slides into chaos again.
The hub has 60 members drawn from international humanitarian organizations, faith-based organizations, UN agencies, the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) and government agencies. All hub members have prepositioned resources so that we can quickly facilitate assistance such as first aid, health, food, shelter and water and sanitation.
As the lead agency in urban nutrition, Concern will address malnutrition and support livelihoods in slum communities in Nairobi and Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city, some 200 miles to the west, if violence breaks out. It is anticipated that an emergency would cause malnutrition among children and breastfeeding mothers living in slum communities to skyrocket because food will be less available to them.
Concern is working to make sure these women and children have a safety net by prepositioning food and supplies to treat and manage malnutrition at various health facilities throughout the slums, and have trained health workers and outreach staff to identify, treat and manage malnutrition. If the situation calls for it, we will provide these services through the 102 health facilities (80 in Nairobi and 22 in Kisumu) that we currently support, reaching approximately 12,000 children under five and 2,800 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
But it’s not just about treating malnutrition. We also need to prevent it. Concern is ready to help 3,000 families (about 15,000 people) meet their household food needs for a period of two to three months. This can be done through cash transfers via cell phone, something that Concern has implemented previously during the food crisis that rocked the country in 2011. If cash transfers do not work for one reason or another, we are working with key supermarket suppliers so that we can provide people with food directly.
No matter how much we prepare, I can’t help but worry, as a humanitarian and a Kenyan. The memory of 2008 is still very much on the surface for all of us. I just hope that it stays as a memory and does not spill over into reality. Until Kenya heads out to the polls on March 4th, we will continue to prepare and hold our breath until.
The presidential candidates in their first debate have pledged to accept defeat and use the courts in the case of any disputes, but it is my hope that they will also manage their supporters in an event of an electoral loss. As a humanitarian community we stand prepared, but we welcome an outcome that would require us to put none of our plans into action.