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African governments urged to take the lead in drought and famine response

posted 16 Aug 2011, 08:01 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 16 Aug 2011, 08:04 ]
Activists and aid agencies launch a campaign dubbed "Africans Act 4 Africa" urging governments on the continent to drive the response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa, calling efforts made so far "slow and small".

 NAIROBI, KENYA (AUGUST 15, 2011) REUTERS -  African governments have been urged to spearhead efforts to assist millions affected by drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

A report released as part of a campaign dubbed "Africans Act 4 Africa" is calling on governments to provide at least 50 million US dollars in emergency funds for the worsening food crisis and calls the response so far "slow and small".

The campaign launched this week, brings together activists, celebrities, civil society and the general public from across the continent to pressure governments to make this the "last ever famine".

Irungu Houghton, Oxfam's pan-African Director told journalists in Nairobi that the upcoming international pledging conference due to be held at the African Union in Ethiopia on August 25, should see Africans lead the way in contributions.

"One of the points that we are making is that we have now 11 days for African governments to step up to the plate and make sure that the international pledging conference taking place on our soil, on this pan African continent of ours should not pass without a contribution from Africans," Houghton said.

Speaking at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Monday (August 15) AU commission chairman Jean Ping made a plea for 1.4 billion US dollars.

"More than 1 billion has so far been committed but a further 1.4 billion is still needed," Ping said.

But even where funds are made available, hardest hit Somalia is an ongoing challenge for the distribution of aid.

A UN report accuses al Qaeda linked rebels, al Shabaab in Somalia -- where famine has been declared and 3.7 million people are going hungry -- of worsening the food crisis by looting and hindering the movement of aid.

"I will at this point once again as I have always been doing to make a fervent appeal to the combatants, the al Shabaab groups as well as the others to show some compassion, to show some good will to enable us get food across to the people in their areas," said Jerry Rawlings, special AU envoy to Somalia.

Much of the Horn of Africa region relies on the October-December rains, but they failed completely last year. Rainfall during the other vital season -- March to May -- was late and erratic this year.

Analysts say governments did not prepare for the impending drought even though early warnings were given.

"This catastrophe was completely preventable and it was preventable way back six months ago or eight months ago when the meteorological departments working under the auspices of IGAD clearly predicted that there was going to be an extreme, severe drought in this period... the political will was not found," said Houghton from OXFAM.

In Kenya, where over 3.5 million people are going hungry, citizens and private sector companies raised 7.6 million US dollars independent of the government, for drought victims in the north and north eastern parts of the country through an initiative called "Kenyans for Kenya".

Here too, the government was accused of not being prepared and of responding to the crisis much too late. The government spokesman said early this month that the government has spent 10 billion shillings (109 million US dollars) to help drought victims.

"Its not acceptable for a government to give the equivalent of a luxury vehicle. It is just not acceptable, not in this day in age," said Houghton, calling on governments to give generously.

The drought and famine have killed more than 29,000 children under the age of 5 in the last three months in southern Somalia alone, according to U.S. estimates.

While the humanitarian response to the famine in Somalia has focused on emergency food and shelter handouts, FAO has appealed for 70 million US dollars to help Somalis buy food, feed their livestock and stay in the country.