Kenyan prisoners planned to skip lunch yesterday to help millions of compatriots facing starvation, a gesture they hope will draw attention to the crisis, officials said on Saturday.
Dozens of people and hundreds of livestock have died of hunger and thirst due to a drought in the arid eastern and northern regions of Kenya. Media reports have put the death toll at 30 but there have been no official figures.
The U.S-based Famine Early Warning System Network has said millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia face acute food shortages due to poor rains.
Officials said the prisoners had been moved by television images showing desperate mothers with malnourished children, hungry people in hospitals and dead livestock in northern Kenya.
"We were surprised by their decision because it was voluntary," said John Isaac Odongo, the commandant of Kenya's prison staff training college.
Odongo said more than 50,000 prisoners would miss lunch. He did not say how much would be saved by the gesture.
The prisoners said it was a small gesture and hoped Kenyans would take up the challenge and assist those in need.
"Those suffering out there are our brothers and sisters," said James Kamutu who is serving a life sentence at the Naivasha maximum prison.
Kenyan officials say 2.5 million people are affected and President Mwai Kibaki on December 24 announced that the government would give about US$40 million to address the situation.
The Meteorological Department has said the drought could extend to March when the rainy season is due.
In a televised New Year address to the nation, Kibaki said he was declaring the drought a national disaster.
"To ensure that we have adequate intervention on the ground, I am declaring the famine a national disaster," he said.
"This morning we welcome the New Year, at a time when some parts of our country are experiencing severe famine. These ares have faced crop failure and depletion of livestock."