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Oxfam warns 23 million facing severe hunger in east Africa

13.7 million people are at risk of severe hunger in Ethiopia, two million desperately need aid in Uganda, and war-torn Somalia is facing the worst humanitarian situation it has seen since 1991, with 3.8 million affected.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Sept 29, 2009
More than 23 million people face severe hunger and destitution across east Africa in the worst crisis there for a decade, aid agency Oxfam warned Tuesday as it launched a new 9.5-million-pound appeal.

A severe five-year drought across seven countries is causing widespread suffering, exacerbated by high food prices and violent conflict, Oxfam said.

It hopes the appeal fund -- worth 15.2 million dollars, 10.4 million euros -- will help it provide clean water, food and other aid for more than 750,000 people across Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania.

"This is the worst humanitarian crisis Oxfam has seen in East Africa for over 10 years," said regional director Paul Smith Lomas.

"Failed and unpredictable rains are ever more regular across East Africa as raining seasons shorten due to the growing influence of climate change. Droughts have increased from once a decade to every two or three years."

He added: "The conditions have never been so harsh or so inhospitable, and people desperately need our help to survive."

Malnutrition is now above emergency levels in some areas, Oxfam said, while hundreds of thousands of cattle are dying, removing people's key income source.

In Wajir in northern Kenya, almost 200 dead animals were recently found around one dried-up water source.

The lack of water has led to tensions between desperate groups of herders searching for food and water, with 65 people killed in Turkana, northern Kenya, since June, Oxfam said.

It said 3.8 million Kenyans -- a tenth of the population -- require emergency aid following its worst drought for a decade and spiralling food prices to 180 percent above the average.

Meanwhile, 13.7 million people are at risk of severe hunger in Ethiopia, two million desperately need aid in Uganda, and war-torn Somalia is facing the worst humanitarian situation it has seen since 1991, with 3.8 million affected.

Earlier this month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Kenyan Red Cross Society (KRCS) warned urgent help was needed for more than 10 million Kenyans affected by drought.

"The situation is beyond serious now. Elephants are already dying in the game reserves because of the drought," said Andrei Engstrand-Neacsu, a member of the Red Cross federation in Nairobi.

"Pastoralist communities are hopelessly watching their cattle dying. They say that when animals start dying, humans are next in line."

KRCS also warned of the risk of conflict caused by competition for resources, citing clashes in January in the Mandera region in northeastern Kenya near the border with Somalia, and in Isiolo near the Ethiopian border.

"Pastoralists can't sit and watch their livestock die and their livelihoods vanish. So they will fight for every drop of water and metre of grass available," said Abbas Gullet, secretary general of the Kenyan Red Cross.

The British Red Cross has released 149,000 pounds from its disaster fund to support the appeal, which will be used to buy and distribute seeds to 15,000 households so they have something to plant when the rains come in October.

However, Oxfam warned the rains could bring more problems, saying there were "genuine fears" of flooding caused by the tropical weather phenomenon El Nino, which could destroy crops and houses and increase the spread of disease.

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