UN appeals for help in Africa

The UN special humanitarian envoy to the Horn of Africa Kjell Bondevik is pressing the international community to back up their promises of aid with hard cash.

“I urge donor countries to pledge more and pay. Not only to pledge, but to pay,” Mr Bondevik told a press conference in Nairobi after touring a drought-stricken district of southwest Kenya.

Donors have so far committed only US186 million of the US$574 million needed to abate the devastating effects of drought in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, according to the World Food Program (WFP).

“I’m afraid that we will go from a crisis to a disaster to a catastrophe if help is not provided in time,” said Mr Bondevik.

The appeal came after Oxfam International warned that slow donor response to the east African drought was impeding relief efforts already in place and unnecessarily jeopardizing lives.

The UN envoy said he would tour western Europe and North America in an attempt to galvanize a flurry of donations to make up for the shortfall of US$388 million.

Mr Bondevik said global climate change was the root cause for the failure of the past two rainy seasons, and it was incumbent on the global community to come to the aid of those at risk.

Millions at risk

More than 11 million people are now at risk of famine in five east African countries – Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti – as cattle, camels and donkeys fall dead at an alarming rate around them.

Mr Bondevik rejected the notion that the current corruption scandals plaguing the Kenyan government, the lack of political stability in Somalia and political turmoil in Ethiopia were affecting the influx of international aid.

“Corruption is no excuse for not helping the people of Kenya who are in need, are starving,” he said. “This is a question of every human being having the same rights and resources that I have.”

In a closed-doors meeting, President Mwai Kibaki told the envoy that his government was determined to work with humanitarian groups with the aim of alleviating suffering, mostly in northern Kenya.

So far, at least 40 people in northern Kenya, mainly women and children, have died as a result of drought-related illness.

The crisis is so bad in some parts of northern Kenya that families are being forced to eat insects, wild berries and squirrels to stay alive, Oxfam has found.

In addition, thousands of livestock have perished dealing a devastating economic blow to the inhabitants of drought-ravaged regions who depend on animals as their primary source of livelihood.

In Somalia, dehydration has killed at least seven people in the past month as severe water shortages have forced many to drink their own urine, according to Oxfam.

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