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Horn of Africa Facing Humanitarian Catastrophe, Warns WFP

The World Food Program is intensifying its appeal on behalf of millions of people in drought-stricken Horn of Africa who are threatened with hunger. WFP says it is issuing its warning in advance of an African Union summit later this month, in hopes African leaders will take up this pressing issue.

During its summit (Jan. 23-24), the African Union will be focusing on the problems of regional stability arising from the conflict in Sudan's province of Darfur. The World Food Program hopes to focus the leaders' attention on the humanitarian catastrophe it says is coming to a head in the Horn of Africa.

WFP says nearly $200 million is urgently needed to provide emergency food aid for an estimated 5.4 million drought victims in Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

WFP Spokesman Simon Pluess says, the region is suffering the worst drought in a decade.

"We notice that children's health and nutritional situation is rapidly deteriorating, because many of them are just eating one meal each day," he said. "And, what we also see is that there is a lot of livestock dying away in large numbers from exhaustion, and because of lack of water and food. In northeastern Kenya, for example, it is a very arid region. Women and small children are begging at roadsides for drinking water and food from motorists."

The World Food Program currently is feeding 1.1 million people in Kenya. It fears that number will more than double in the coming months.

WFP says the emergency facing the Horn of Africa today is the result of successive seasons of failed rains.

Mr. Pluess says all four countries are in desperate need of help. But, Somalia's difficult situation is compounded by conflict.

"We have the southern regions of Somalia, where the situation is deteriorating rapidly, with an estimated 1.4 million people that are in urgent need of assistance," added Pluess. "That mainly comes because of the poor deyr rains in October and November. Somalia has the worst cereal harvest in a decade. And, we see many pastoralists in the south that are forced to concentrate along rivers and in the few remaining green pastures."

Making the situation even worse, Pluess says, piracy has hampered WFP's efforts to provide food aid. Last year, two ships carrying relief food to Somalia were hijacked, forcing WFP to find alternative delivery routes. Pluess says the agency now uses road transport through northern Kenya, as well as Djibouti. He says both routes are more expensive and slower.