“We are facing a crisis on a massive scale which will spiral out of control at great human cost if we do not act now,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director Tesema Negash said in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. “For many Kenyans, two poor seasons in a row will spell disaster if they do not receive assistance on time.” The announcement follows an appeal last month by President Mwai Kibaki for international emergency assistance until at least the end of January for hard-hit people in the rural areas of Coast, Eastern, North Eastern and Rift Valley Provinces. This year’s long rains were poor in much of eastern and southern Kenya and in some northern areas. A dry spell from late April to May came at a critical stage in the crop development. Scattered showers in early June were too late for a significant recovery, resulting in near-total crop failures in many parts of Coast and Eastern Provinces. Pasture and grazing are already poor in much of North Eastern Province and parts of Rift Valley.If the short rains are poor later in the year, an estimated 1 million more people will require food assistance in 2005.Many Kenyans are missing out on meals to preserve food stocks and children are skipping school to assist their parents in the hunt for food. Wild animals are also leaving their game-park homes because of a shortage of water and are damaging vital crops.Under the emergency operation, the school feeding programme is to be expanded from the 1 million primary and pre-primary children who already receive lunches to include another 544,000 youngsters in arid and semi-arid areas. For many of these children, school lunches are the only meal that they eat in an entire day. The programme reduces the number of children who drop out of classes to look for food or work, especially in times of hardship. It also cuts malnutrition and boosts school attendance and educational performance.Earlier this week the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched an appeal for an additional $8 million to bolster its ability to help women and youngsters in the drought-affected areas.