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UN Says More Money Needed To Avert Disaster in East Africa


U.N. Humanitarian chief John Holmes says the deteriorating situation in East Africa will require more international aid in 2008. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports Holmes briefed the Security Council on his just-completed mission to Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.

Holmes ended his mission in Somalia, where half of the population of the capital city of Mogadishu has fled vicious fighting among various factions.

Holmes says more than 230,000 displaced people are living along a 165 kilometer stretch outside of Mogadishu, creating what he calls probably the single largest internally displaced persons gathering the world today. Tens of thousands more remain in Mogadishu or are scattered throughout the country.

The emergency relief chief says the international community cannot abandon the people of Somalia. To avert a humanitarian disaster, Holmes says aid to Somalia must increase from $300 million in 2007 to $400 million in the next year.

"I fear on the basis of what I heard that increasingly terrible things are happening in Mogadishu as it descends into the nightmare of urban guerrilla warfare and reciprocal atrocities," he said.

Holmes says aid workers have had some successes bringing in clean water, operating a vaccination program for children and distributing food provided by the world Food Program. He says most of the work is being done by local groups due to distrust between authorities and international humanitarian workers, a theme that Holmes stressed in his Security Council briefing.

In Darfur, Sudan, 13,000 relief workers are currently assisting more than four million people. But Holmes says their access to many areas is restricted and they are increasingly victims of violence themselves. Holmes says 12 aid workers were killed in Sudan last year, 118 were temporarily held as hostages and 59 were physically or sexually assaulted.

"I have detailed these challenges to underscore that despite its scale and relative success in sustaining millions and saving hundreds of thousands of lives, the humanitarian operation in Darfur is increasingly fragile. Morale among humanitarians is low, lower that when I was last there in March because of the multiple pressures I have mentioned. The political context is changing as rebel groups jockey for position and some Arab groups flex their muscles in new ways," he said.

Holmes estimates that the international community will have to raise its aid to Darfur from $700 million this year to $825 million in the next year.

Holmes says there could also be humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia in the near future unless the government takes immediate steps to avert famine.

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