Africa leaders raise famine funds


African leaders have held a fund-raiser in Ethiopia in a bid to plug a $1.1 billion shortfall in aid for millions starving in the Horn of Africa's worst drought for decades.

African leaders have held a fund-raiser in Ethiopia in a bid to plug a $1.1 billion shortfall in aid for millions facing starvation in the Horn of Africa's worst drought in decades.

African Union chairman Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Djiboutiian President Ismael Omar Guelleh and Somali leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed were present at the start of the meeting.

The fund-raising conference is the first of its kind by the pan-African body, which has so far pledged only a tiny fraction of the sums needed to deliver relief to the region.

"We want an action-oriented conference. We don't want words, we want action," said Noureddine Mezni, the AU commission spokesman, calling for contributions to plug the $1.1 billion funding shortfall.

A total of $2.4 billion is required to assist the 12.4 million drought victims. The AU has pledged $500,000.

"The African private sector should be involved too," added Mezni.

The Horn of Africa is suffering its worst drought in decades which, combined with conflict and resource mismanagement in Somalia, has led to what the UN describes as the world's worst unfolding humanitarian disaster.

The world body for the first time this century has declared a state of famine in five Somali regions and said it could spread to engulf the country's entire south.

The drought has also left millions in parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda facing starvation.

AU Commission chief Jean Ping urged Africans to "act out against hunger by providing both cash and in-kind support for urgent life-saving assistance to our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa."

A pan-African fundraising campaign, Africans Act 4 Africa, criticised African governments and the AU for not responding quickly enough to a crisis that blew up two months ago.

So far, African governments have pledged $21 million, but only from a few countries, the fundraising group said in a statement, adding that Africa should offer a minimum of $50 million.

"If we truly believe in 'African solutions for African problems' we need to demonstrate this very clearly, not just in words but in actions," the group said.

"We need to ensure this is not just another talk shop where AU leaders spend a lot of money on travel, protocol and their entourages."

Somalia has been the worst affected country in the region, with nearly half of its estimated 10 million people in need of humanitarian aid and hundreds of thousands struggling for survival after fleeing to Ethiopian and Kenyan camps.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden warned Wednesday that Somalia's Middle and Lower Juba regions could be hit by famine, adding to the five regions already declared to be in famine.

"We are anticipating that two more areas of southern Somalia will be included," Bowden told AFP.

European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also Wednesday urged world governments to meet a "moral obligation" and increase emergency aid to the drought-hit Horn of Africa.

"The situation is grave, and it is a moral obligation of the international community to offer its help," she said.

Ashton said the EU's immediate humanitarian commitment for this year had risen from 97 million euros to 158 million, while national aid pledges from its member states totalled a further 440 million.

Others attending the Addis Ababa meeting were AU representative to Somalia and former Ghanaian president, Jerry Rawlings and UN deputy secretary general Asha Rose Migiro.

Source: AFP