UN calls for emergency aid in Horn of Africa

ELEANOR HALL: The United Nations is appealing for emergency aid for the Horn of Africa as one of the worst droughts in more than 50 years puts the lives of 10 million people at risk.

The British government is now promising to lead the world’s response with a $60 million contribution.

But the UN’s humanitarian aid chief is warning that the United States’ policy on the Islamist militias in Somalia is obstructing the aid efforts, as Europe correspondent Emma Alberici reports.

(Sound of baby crying)

NOURIA (translated): The main reason is drought. We don’t have food. We have nothing to eat. People started to die so we fled.

EMMA ALBERICI: Nouria and her six children have arrived at Dadaab in Kenya, the world’s biggest refugee camp, the family driven away from Somalia by hunger.

Dadaab was set up to house, nourish and medically treat 90,000 people but already close to four times that, 350,000, are seeking shelter there.

Maurice Onyango of Christian Aid has been working on a program to supply water to the most remote areas in east Africa.

MAURICE ONYANGO: As you travelled northern Kenya into southern Ethiopia what you find on the roads is mainly carcasses of dead animals.

EMMA ALBERICI: The United Nations is leading efforts to contain the crisis.

UN humanitarian aid chief Baroness Valerie Amos is the world’s most senior aid official. She’s estimating the numbers at risk at 10 million.

VALERIE AMOS: One of my biggest worries is that more and more children are malnourished and are suffering from malnutrition but we’re also beginning to see examples of adults suffering from malnutrition.

This of course is extremely serious because none of us wants to see a return to the kind of famine conditions that we saw in Ethiopia and in that region many years ago.

EMMA ALBERICI: In Somalia alone two and a half million people are said to be in desperate need of water and food as one of the worst droughts since 1951 takes hold.

But the UN reports that their work is being seriously hampered by a lack of funds from the United States, which has a blanket policy of black-listing any group found to be in contact with Al-Shabaab, the Islamist militias controlling much of south and central Somalia.

Washington is concerned about aid money landing in the lap of warlords.

VALERIE AMOS: You have to be neutral and you have to be impartial in the way that you help people. If we start to think about you’re that religion or the bit of the country that you’re in is controlled by that group that we don’t like we will get into huge difficulties.

EMMA ALBERICI: Overnight Britain pledged $60 million in food aid to Ethiopia, enough money they say to feed 1.3 million people for three months.

The international development secretary said the cash would also treat 329,000 malnourished children and lactating mothers.

The UK is appealing to other countries to follow suit if a full scale disaster is to be avoided.

This is Emma Alberici in London for The World Today.

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