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UN Agencies Warn of Growing Humanitarian Risk in Horn of Africa


United Nations agencies are warning of a growing humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa region. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, the agencies are calling on donor countries to provide more funds to stem a worsening crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia and other countries.

UN agencies have warned that a combination of drought, insecurity and rising food prices threaten to make an already dire humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa even worse in coming months. The agencies estimate that over 14 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Djibouti will require food and other forms of assistance.

Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in Somalia, where soaring food prices have added to the problems caused by three years of drought, and 17 years of civil war. The UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, told a news conference in Nairobi that the security situation has only gotten worse in recent months.

"I think it's fair to say at the moment that in parts of Somalia people feel more insecure than ever before," said Bowden.

He said that in Somalia, where between 60 to 80 percent of food is imported, and where over a million people have been displaced by fighting, the population is particularly vulnerable.

"We're now estimating that by the end of the year, three and a half million people will need assistance. That by any estimate, is about almost half the population, will need assistance, which is a frightening figure to have to deal with," he added.

The UN has launched a $637 million humanitarian appeal for Somalia. So far, only 35 percent of that has been provided.

A spokesman for the World Food Program, Peter Smerdon, says that the agency is seeking to double food deliveries to Somalia in coming months, a task complicated by insecurity both on the ground in Somalia and off shore, where piracy has been a growing concern.

"We are appealing for any government urgently now to step forward to provide naval escorts to our ships carrying WFP food into Somalia to protect them from piracy," he said. "Another ship in South Africa, having signed the contract to go to Mogadishu, is now refusing to load 12,000 tons of cereals today unless it receives naval support. If that 12,000 tons does not arrive in Mogadishu, 1 million people in Somalia will not receive any cereals in August," said Smerdon.

In Ethiopia, some 4.6 million people require emergency food aid, with nearly six million more also requiring international assistance. Ethiopia has been hit particularly hard by price increases, with inflation rates for food reaching 40 percent.

Smerdon says the WFP often buys food for its programs within Ethiopia, but in the current situation doing so would only serve to drive up prices even more.

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