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UN Official: Still Time to Avert Catastrophe in Horn of Africa


A senior U.N. official says there is still time to avert a catastrophe in the Horn of Africa where eight million drought victims are threatened with famine. The official, who recently visited Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, tells VOA people are in a critical state and are in need of immediate assistance.

People in the Horn of Africa have suffered from poverty and underdevelopment for years. On top of that, they have been affected by drought for four of the past six years, and this has taken a heavy toll.

U.N. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Kjell Magne Bondevik, says herders have lost thousands of cattle because they had no grass to eat. He says food and water are scarce.

"There is much malnutrition," he said. "And, I was in Somalia for instance. But, also in Djibouti, a small country which very often is forgotten. I was at the health center there where they came with small children malnourished, but they were saved because they came there. But, we are worried that many are not coming to such health centers and they are at risk to die."

The United Nations has appealed for more than $800 million. It has received 30 percent of that amount. Bondevik is making the rounds of European capitals to drum up donor support for the Horn of Africa.

Bondevik, a former Prime Minister of Norway, says this appeal, unlike most emergency appeals is asking for money to support medium and longer-term development projects. He says the only way to end this perennial cycle of drought and famine is to implement programs that can help people cope with the next drought themselves.

"Increasing their agricultural production is of great importance," he added. "Secondly, we need more bore holes, water holes. I have met women who had to walk 30 kilometers, spending 11 hours to get some liters of water. That is a waste of time. It is possible to drill more bore holes or to make some simple pipelines on the ground to reduce their walking distance."

Bondevik says emergency humanitarian relief cannot be ignored.

But he adds implementing projects that can help people take care of their own needs will save money and lives in the long run. For instance, he says building roads will allow people to transport goods to market, building health centers and schools will improve a community's well being.