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Somalia Welcomes Drought Pledge by African Nations

Somali children from southern Somalia, receive cooked food in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, Aug 15, 2011

A spokesman for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Abdirahman Omar Osman, welcomed the “exceptional” contribution made at a donors conference in Addis Ababa Thursday.

The conference was organized by African Union, which says the meeting raised more than $350 million for East Africa drought relief.

AU Commission chairman Jean Ping told reporters the donations included $300 million from the African Development Bank and $51 million from other African sources.

Osman said the funds will go a long way to help combat drought in the region.

“This is the first time that we have seen [Africans] coming together for the sake of helping [their] brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa,” said Osman.

He was cautiously optimistic, despite previous promises by the international community that have not been met.

“We have seen before pledges being made but not fulfilled,” said Osman. “We believe this time is different because of the manner in which it was organized…and we believe the African Union is taking the leadership [in] solving issues that concern the continent.”

The AU has been criticized for its slow response to the drought and famine in parts of East Africa.

But supporters say the donor pledge will boost relief efforts.

Osman said the TFG has a strategy to implement measures that will prevent future drought.

He called the plan a holistic approach that includes “the medium term and the long term, such as plans for re-development and also re-engaging with the community and providing a secure environment and jobs.”

The United Nations says more than 12 million people in the region are in urgent need of food aid. The Horn is experiencing the worst drought in six decades.

In Somalia, where the situation is the most serious, the U.N. says more than 3.2 million people are estimated to be on the brink of starvation.