|Posted on Wednesday, February 01, 2006 - 12:14 am: |
NAIROBI (AFP) - Officials in drought-stricken Kenya recoiled with outrage to a plan by a New Zealand woman to send "dog food" for starving children, even as she said the product was fit for human consumption.
Describing the idea as "absurd," "insulting," "offensive" and "immoral," officials vehemently rejected the donation for children threatened by famine and said they would put measures in place to prevent any similar assistance.
The would-be donor, Christine Drummond, has told the New Zealand media her donation differed from the pet food, though made with the same ingredients, and she and her children eat it.
"It is immoral, it is unacceptable," said Special Programmes Minister John Munyes, who is coordinating the government's response to the drought that has put up to four million people in the east African nation at risk of starvation.
"I am very much offended, it is in bad taste," he told AFP. "It is unacceptable and we should not even be discussing such a demeaning thing."
"Even if we have famine in this corner of the world, it does not reduce us to dogs," said Colonel Shem Amadi, the head of Kenya's National Operations Centre, an emergency response unit in President Mwai Kibaki's office.
"People from that corner of the world have no respect for some of us," he told AFP.
"Oh no, it is horrible, it is terrible," said Khadija Abdalla, head of the Garrisa Provincial Hospital in one of the worst-hit areas of northeast Kenya where at least 40 people have died since December of drought-related causes.
"It is insulting us because we are poor," she told AFP.
"We appreciate when people are willing to help us, but they should be sensitive about our culture,"government spokesman Alfred Mutua.
"Telling us that you are giving us food for dogs in our culture is an insult of the highest order," he told AFP. "Maybe, she was trying to help, but I hope this offer is a result of naivety."
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights condemned the offer as a degrading assault on the dignity of the country's children.
"What message is created when one decides to feed starving children dog food?" it said. "It dehumanizes and degrades the children who are the intended beneficiaries. It makes no allowance for human dignity which revolts at the idea of eating a foodstuff created and intended for animals."
The outcry began when Nairobi's leading Daily Nation picked up a report about the offer of 6,000 packets of powdered dog food from The Press newspaper in Christchurch, New Zealand and splashed it across its front page.
Under the headline "For starving children of Kenya, 42 tons of dog food ..." the Nation heaped scorn on the scheme presented to the New Zealand paper by Drummond, the founder of Mighty Mix dog food.
In an interview with Television New Zealand late on Monday, Drummond said the relief, NZ's Raw Dry Nourish, is fit for humans. Both she and her children used it, but she allowed it contains the same ingredients as Mighty Mix dog biscuits.
The Press quoted her as saying she initially thought of sending biscuits to Kenya but decided against it when she discovered the need.
"The first plan was to send dog biscuits and change the vitamins then when I heard there were so many little children I could not send them a bicky," The Press quoted her as saying.
So she created a powdered form of the ingredients -- freeze-dried beef, mutton, pork and chicken, deer velvet, green lip mussel, kelp, garlic, egg, whole grain cereals and cold-pressed flax seed flour -- to mix with water.
"The dogs thrive on it," Mighty Mix agent Gaynor Siviter told The Press. "They have energy, put on weight. It's bizarre but if it's edible and it works for these people then it's a brilliant idea. It beats eating rice."