updated 1/9/2009 12:19:30 PM ET 2009-01-09T17:19:30

Ten million people risk going hungry in Kenya after harvests failed because of drought, the government said Friday.

The government declared a national emergency and will lift the import duty on corn until the next major harvest, which will not be for a year in many areas.

The emergency declaration allows the government to divert money from development projects to food aid and to use disaster funds that are held in reserve, said government spokesman Alfred Mutua.

"It also opens ways for intervention from others," said Mutua. "Our disaster emergency fund is getting depleted."

Finances under strain
Kenya's finances are under strain because of the cost of sheltering and reintegrating 600,000 people displaced by violence following December 2007 elections. More than 1,000 people were killed, and many farmers were too frightened to return home and plant crops.

The government plans to distribute food in drought affected areas and to the poor in urban areas. It also plans to distribute free and subsidized fertilizer, seeds and farm equipment.

The U.N.'s World Food Program is already feeding 1.2 million people in Kenya, said spokesman Peter Smerdon.

"We do expect the numbers in need to increase significantly," he said.

The last state of emergency declared because of hunger was more than four years ago.

More on Kenya | Africa

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