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Aid Sought for Drought Victims in Horn of Africa

Earlier this month, the United Nations appealed for over $400 million for victims of drought in the Horn of Africa. Dry weather has put an estimated 12 million people at risk of severe food shortages. The aid group, Islamic Relief, has many years experience dealing with drought in the region, and the group's founder says this latest drought has far-reaching consequences.

The founder and president of Islamic Relief, Hany Abdel Gawad El Banna, traveled to the drought-stricken Horn of Africa region this past March. At a recent seminar in Washington, he described a scene he witnessed, which he said illustrates just how dire the situation is.

"It is very serious when you see the camel dying," he explained. "The camel, as you know, is the hardest animal to die. And I was nearly crying when I saw one of those camels [that] cannot stand up on its feet, and he was making a very, very deep -- the noise of agony. It's like an old man who lived in agony because of his sickness and suffering, because there is no means of living for him."

Hany says this scene, repeated throughout the region, makes clear why the current drought is a calamity for ordinary Africans. That is because people in villages throughout the Horn rely almost solely on their livestock to make a living, and these animals are dying of thirst and hunger.

Mr. Hany says what he learned during his trip was that, above all else, people, especially in hard hit Somalia, need clean water.

"There's no means of life in this area," he added. "Water there is infested, their drinking water. We went to an area in north of Kenya. We visited a river bed, which was dry. And we looked at one of these wells. And when you get the water from this well, it is infested with worms. "

The drought has resulted in the worst harvest in Somalia in a decade. For Somalia alone, the United Nations has asked for more than $300 million to fund food aid and water programs.

During his March assessment trip, Hany of Islamic Relief traveled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Somalia, where the organization has recently opened a field office.

The independent, non-governmental organization was created in 1984, and, since then, has tried to alleviate the suffering of the world's poorest people, regardless of race, religion or gender.

Hany says his motivation comes from a sense of personal guilt that Africans are suffering unnecessarily, and from a strongly held belief that the international community must put an end to it. He recalled the efforts 20 years ago of activist rock stars, such as Bob Geldof, to raise awareness about Africa with massive concerts, and fundraising drives.

"You talk about the agony of Africa, which we thought one day we were going to have an end to it in the era of Sir Bob Geldof in 1983 and 1984 -- the famine," he said. "The Live Aid and the Band Aid [concerts]. But 20 years after the Bob Geldof era, we're still having the same problem coming again, and Africa is not as good as it was 20 years ago unfortunately."

Despite that bleak assessment, Hany says Islamic Relief remains committed to long-term development in the hardest-hit African nations to empower people, to enable them to sustain themselves. And he called on African governments and the international community to get on board, by working to end corruption, offering debt relief to the poorest of nations and by donating much needed money to help put effective programs in place.