AU plans donor conference as Somalia famine spreads

AU plans donor conference as Somalia famine spreads

The Africa Union announced on Thursday it would hold a donors' conference for drought victims in the Horn of Africa, as the cautioned that the situation in Somalia was getting worse, DPA reported

"We are afraid that the famine will spread deeper into Somalia," said Abdou Dieng, the country director for the UN's World Food Programme in Ethiopia.

The previous day, the UN declared three more zones in Somalia were officially suffering a famine, bringing the number of areas in this most extreme category to five.

All of the country's south would likely be declared famine-hit in the coming weeks, while the north too was seeing food security decline.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the only aid agencies able to operate inside the worst affected parts of Somalia, said the situation "is becoming ever more desperate" and more aid was needed.

The AU donors' conference - set now for August 25, after having earlier been planned for August 9 and then cancelled - is supposed to help raise money for humanitarian charities facing funding shortfalls for their work in the drought-hit countries.

"The conference is meant to galvanize resources on the continent," the AU said in a statement.

Officials have indicated governmental donations from Africa have totalled only some 500,000 dollars so far, though private citizens have also raised funds.

The UN has also criticized Arab nations - with the exception of oil-rich Saudi Arabia - as most of the emergency cash is coming from industrialized Western nations. Aid agencies say 2.4 billion dollars is needed for relief work.

No solution has yet been offered for people in southern and central areas, where the Islamist militia al-Shabaab bans most charities in regions it controls. Even if more donations flooded in, aid workers say they generally cannot reach civilians there.

The AU called on its member-states to mark August 15 as a special day for the grave humanitarian situation in the east of the continent, particularly Somalia.

The WFP urged all countries in the Horn of Africa to take serious steps to stockpile food as safety nets and invest in planning for emergencies.

"In Ethiopia there have been food reserves, but now they are almost at zero level," Dieng noted, adding that careful use of water resources was also crucial to surviving the lack of rains.

For now the UN did not expect famine conditions to develop in Ethiopia and Kenya, despite the dire drought situation in some parts of those countries.

However, charities warned that vulnerable groups across the region were suffering amid the worst food crisis Africa has seen in decades.

"Nearly half the children surveyed in drought-hit northern Kenya had eaten no food for a whole day," said World Vision, which is providing relief items.

"Children are begging by the roadside as they fight for survival, putting them at risk of violence and sexual abuse," the charity noted in a new report.

Over 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are estimated to be in need of humanitarian aid, 3.7 million of them in Somalia alone.

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