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UN Humanitarian Chief Launches Funding Appeal for Horn of Africa

The United Nations' humanitarian affairs coordinator, Jan Egeland, Friday appealed for $426 million to help drought victims in the Horn of Africa.

Egeland told reporters in Nairobi many lives are at stake in Africa, particularly in drought-ravaged parts of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

"Eight million people are in need of immediate assistance as we speak," he said. "Fifteen million people are food-insecure, and will be in a desperate situation, unless things dramatically improve. These are figures, which is the same as all of the Scandinavian countries combined. It would be evident, if, say, all of Scandinavia faced collective starvation, the world would really respond."

Egeland said the $426 million appeal includes 100 projects from 22 aid groups that range from food distribution to setting up irrigation systems.

The bulk of the money is to go to Somalia, where warlords seeking control over certain parts of the country have been battling civilians and each other for more than a decade.

The humanitarian chief said widespread hunger could propel the country into further chaos, and block efforts to implement the new government.

Egeland launched the funding appeal in Kenya's capital following his tour of Uganda, southern Sudan and Kenya, which began late last week.

He told reporters he saw many signs of hope during his trip.

He said that, in Northern Uganda, people are returning to their homes in great numbers, despite rebel attacks, while at least 800,000 Sudanese are expected to go back to their homes in post-war southern Sudan this year.

But problems remain, he said, primarily increased malnutrition among children, and scores of cattle dying, which threatens most families' livelihoods.

Egeland stressed the importance of aid and cooperation in the area's humanitarian work.

"In the places where I went, I could see that the United Nations with non-governmental organizations can do miracles when we have funding, security, and we have governments helping us to do our job," he said. "In many situations in Africa, we lack one or more of the three things."

There have been rains recently in parts of the affected areas, but aid agencies warn that it may not signal the end of the crisis.

The British charity Oxfam Friday issued a statement saying that, while the rains have helped crops and grazing areas, they have also blocked roads and aid delivery, and have further weakened the few surviving animals.

Egeland said the rains have been too little in some parts, and too much in others, making it too early to know how the rains will affect the drought in the long run.