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UN warns of Horn of Africa's 'silent tsunami'

Written by: Staff

WAJID, Somalia, May 2: Only 20 percent of an emergency 426 million dollars appeal to prevent a catastrophe for millions of people in the drought-hit Horn of Africa has been raised, according to a senior UN official.

Kjell Magne Bondevik, the UN special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa, said 8 million people in the Horn need immediate aid and 7 million more are at risk if if donors do not come up with the funding.

''It is a silent tsunami. That is why the public awareness is not so high -- the drought has had a gradual, terrible impact where the tsunami was sudden and dramatic,'' Bondevik told reporters, referring to the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Bondevik was speaking as he wrapped up a five-country tour to assess humanitarian needs in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenyan and Somalia.

''In general we are still in a very critical situation,'' he said. ''(The recent rain) is too little, too late to avoid the crisis, but with proper funding, it is still possible to avoid a catastrophe.'' In Wajid, recent rains have turned the parched landscape green, but local officials said no one should be fooled that the crisis is over.

Accompanied by heavily armed battlewagons called ''technicals'' full of Kalashnikov-wielding militiamen, Bondevik visited feeding centres and refugee camps in Wajid.

The area is a base of operations for foreign aid agencies working in the worst-affected areas in the southern and central areas of the anarchic country -- one of the toughest places in the world to deliver humanitarian assistance.


UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland made an appeal for 426 million dollars in drought funding on April 7.

Since then, the United Nations has used emergency funds to cover the shortfall, but many long-term projects will go unfinanced if more money does not come through, Bondevik said.

''About 20 per cent has been raised and I am a bit worried,'' he said. ''Maybe the donor community is feeling a bit tired. They say 'Oh, the Horn of Africa again'.'' He urged Arab nations to take part more actively.

''Countries in the Arab League could do a lot more. Some contribute bilaterally but they do not join the multilateral efforts,'' he said.

It was impossible to quantify the number of deaths from the drought because there were so many related factors that cloud the true numbers, he said.

All the countries in the region had their particular problems, Bondevik said. Somalia was tough because of the total lack of security, and Djibouti was so small that it could easily be neglected.

Kenya could have done more because it is the most developed country in the region, but was hampered because ''they have also this problem with corruption,'' Bondevik said.

Eritrea, which has expelled foreign aid workers and has kept 100,000 tonnes of food aid locked up under a policy of self-reliance, is spending too much in the wrong place, he said.

''It is a tragedy that they use so much on military resources,'' he said, referring to the 300,000 people in service out of a population of 3.6 million.


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