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E Africa must get drought aid in days - UN

Written by: Staff
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EL WAK, Kenya, March 4 (Reuters) Aid for victims of a drought across east Africa will run out in April unless help arrives in the next 10 days, a top official of the UN food agency said today.

''This is as bad as it gets. The consequences are absolutely catastrophic,'' said James Morris, executive director for the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).

He was speaking during a visit to El Wak, near Kenya's north-east border with Somalia, which is one of the areas worst affected by the drought.

''We will urgently need more help in the next 10 days because it takes time to buy, ship and distribute food. It is not something you can do overnight,'' Morris added.

Hundreds of people and tens of thousands of livestock have died from hunger and thirst across a vast region encompassing some of Africa's poorest and most arid zones.

The UN estimates as many as 11 million people are at risk of starvation.

The WFP needs 225 million dollars to be able to buy 30,000 tonnes of food each month until February 2007, but has received only 28 million dollars, WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon said.

''We are already on the edge because food is running out and we are supposed to be feeding people until February of next year,'' Smerdon said. ''If we get a break in the food pipeline then malnutrition will go up very seriously.'' El Wak resident Mohamed Ibrahim, 55, said the drought has reduced his 200 camels to a paltry 40, and his cattle from 100 heads to only three.

''We don't just need food, we need other kinds of help as well,'' Ibrahim said.

''People say we should change the way we live but there are no towns, no businesses, no agriculture that we can do. And so we use our animals as banks.'' REUTERS PM PM2051

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