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UK pledges $73 million in aid as food crisis worsens

Britain has pledged 73 million dollars in emergency aid to help East Africa cope with its most severe food crisis in decades as the UN warned that the drought across the region was likely to worsen over the next few months.


AFP - The plight of millions of people left hungry by a harsh drought across the Horn of Africa is set to worsen, with the next rains expected in October and harvests months away, a top UN official warned Saturday.

Scanty or failed rainfall in the region over the past two years has already forced thousands of Somalis to flee the country and ruined the livelihoods of millions in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

"We are possibly seeing a perfect storm in the coming months.... We are going to do everything we can to ameliorate it," UNICEF director Anthony Lake told AFP on his way to the drought-hit region of Turkana in north Kenya.

"We are scaling up in every way we can.... It is very bad now. There will be no major harvests until some time next year. The next six months are going to be very tough," added Lake.

Turkana is one of Kenya's badly affected regions where malnutrition rates have increased to 37 percent, compared with 15 percent in 2010, according to the aid organisation Oxfam.

A nurse in Lodwar, Turkana's main town, said the number of children admitted suffering malnutrition had doubled since last year.

"It (the drought) is the worst I have ever seen. We have admitted twice the number of children compared to last year," said Anne Lojao.

"Many children arrive already malnourished and weak and some are irritable, but they are the lucky ones who make it here."

Kenya is also home to the world's biggest refugee camp, where hundreds of thousands of Somalis have sought refuge from relentless conflict back home and thousands more are arriving daily due to the current drought.

Relief groups are struggling to cope with the influx and have urged the Kenyan government to ease camp congestion by opening a new camp that has already been constructed.

The camps that are currently operational host 380,000 people, more than four times the initial capacity.

Western countries and other donors have pledged millions of dollars in aid for the drought-stricken population but Lake said more still needed to be done.

Britain promised 52 million pounds (59 million euro, 73 million dollars) in emergency aid, in a statement Saturday from International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

"The situation is getting worse and is particularly devastating in Somalia, where families already have to cope with living in one of the most insecure countries in the world," Mitchell said.

He called for doing "more to help not only refugees but also those victims of the drought who remain in Somalia."

UNICEF said last week it needed 31.8 million dollars for the coming three months to assist millions of affected women and children.

The organisation estimates that more than two million children in the region are malnourished and need urgent help, while some 500,000 of them face imminent, life-threatening conditions.

Experts have called for long-term measures to deal with the effects of recurring drought, arguing that the resultant human suffering can be avoided.

"Although governments and their development partners cannot make the rains come, they can mitigate the impact of these recurring droughts in East Africa," Kevin Cleaver of the International Fund for Agricultural Development said this week.

He argued that governments and donors should invest more in agricultural research to develop drought resistant crops and fodder for livestock.

The regions in the Horn of Africa often affected by cyclical drought have also been neglected by governments, with no electricity, roads, water and other basic health and education facilities.

These arid regions, many of them far removed from capitals, have also seen frequent inter-clan clashes over scarce resources as well insurgencies.

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