This is my second report for today. The radio is saying that 355 people have died and 150,000 have been displaced in Kenya since the election on Dec 27. I think this is a gross underestimate, as I will indicate below. The radio also reports that things are calming down. While this may be true in Nairobi and the other cities, it is not the case here in the countryside, as again I will indicate below.
At 5:00 pm, we went on my usual walk around town. Naturally we stopped by the school where the displaced people have moved, as I mentioned in my email earlier today. When we went in, we noticed that there were eight Red Cross personnel. Fortunately, we had met the Red Cross leader previously -- in better times. So he was willing to be quite open with us and consequently the other Red Cross workers were open as well. Here is what we learned.
I really am a bad estimator. I thought there might be a few hundred displaced persons. No, there are 2,506 at the school. There are a total of seven camps in the district. The one in Turbo (a hard-hit town) has 15,000 at the police station. Another camp has 5,000, another 4,000, another 2000, and then a few with only hundreds. This totals over 30,000 people and this is only one district; and not a particularly hard hit district as many in the Rift Valley are. So the total of 150,000 for the country must be an underestimate. I figure there are about 200,000 people in the district so this means that 15% of the population is displaced.
I asked what the people would do when things calmed down. Would they go back to their homes or return to Nairobi and Central Province? The answer was that they had nowhere to go back to since they were born in this District and had lived here their whole lives. Many had moved to this District during the colonial period to work on the farms of the British settlers.
The population in the camps had divided up according to the place they came from. One section was for the men and the other for the women and children. There are about 25 classrooms in the school so this means each classroom will have about 100 people in it. There are a lot of children. I was also told that people are still coming in and that there are many still in the countryside who had not yet reached the camps. I also learned that some were not Kikuyu; if you are married to a Kikuyu (husband or wife), you would also be targeted. The Red Cross workers pointed out some of the Luhya in the camp.
The Red Cross has not sent any assistance yet and there was a shortage of food in the camp. A large truck drove up while we were there with many bags of maize. We were told that someone had gotten these from his storehouse. But we were also told of one man who had over 100 bags of maize burned (along, of course, with his house). Most of the people had run away with just what they were wearing and had lost everything; so, there is even a shortage of clothing, cooking and eating utensils. Some children have been separated from their parents and one thing the Red Cross is doing is trying to reunite the children with their parents--in the meantime the children are being assigned to a new "family" to look after them.
They reported that there are cases of cholera which means unhygienic conditions. There were definitely not an adequate number of latrines at the police station. The school had a large number, although I'm not sure if they will be adequate, particularly in the long run.
One of the issues for the Red Cross workers is that they didn't know how long this would last--would the situation be resolved in a day or two, a week or more, a month or even longer? It is therefore difficult to plan. I wonder, even after the situation has calmed down, how long will it take for people to return to their homes. The Red Cross leader said that they would return home because a home can be rebuilt. But how long will that take and will people have the resources to do this?
We then went to the hospital to see the medical officer in charge, whom we knew from the time when my mother-in-law was sick. He was not in. The women's ward, which had only a few people when my mother-in-law was sick, was now completely filled. As we were walking back to our house, the big transit goods truck parked at the police station slowly drove by on its way to Malaba and Uganda. I wondered why they waited until dusk to leave.
On the road, we then met the medical officer in charge. Yes, there were cases of cholera, but they were not too bad, but he expected them to get worse as time went on. He was working day and night. He had no blood supply so he was sending wounded patients in need of blood to Webuye, a town with a better hospital. The ambulance, he said, was going back and forth day and night, but what would happen when the tank of petrol (gas) was finished? This implied that people who needed a transfusion would the not survive. On Sunday night there were many wounded at the hospital--some died, but he said, "There were many wounded people last night also" clearly indicating that the fighting was still going on in the countryside. He was clearly weary, doing as best he could in the circumstances, and as befuddled as everyone else as to how this could happen.
My wife bought some tomatoes and a half kilo of beef as we walked the last block to our house.