EU boosts support to Horn of Africa drought victims

July 24, 2011 9:24 am

, DADAAB, Jul 24 – The European Union aid commissioner has vowed to do all that is possible to support 12 million people struggling from extreme drought across the Horn of Africa, boosting aid by 27.8 million euros ($40 million).

“We commit to do as much as we can,” said EU aid chief Kristalina Georgieva during a visit to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee complex.

The funds come on top of almost 70 million euros ($100 million) the bloc has already contributed as assistance in the worst regional drought in decades, affecting parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Uganda.

Refugees from neighbouring Somalia fleeing drought, famine and conflict continue to stream daily into the camp in eastern Kenya, a vast and overcrowded complex sheltering some 380,000 people.

Kenya’s government has said it is overwhelmed by the flood of refugees, including those fleeing two areas in southern Somalia that the United Nations declared on Wednesday were suffering from famine.

“We really appreciate what the Kenyan government and the Kenyan people are doing,” said Georgieva. “We have a responsibility to share.”

Kenya recently agreed to open a new extension to ease congestion in the camp, but remains wary of the security threat posed by Somali insurgents and fears that some rebels can find their way into the camps.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua suggested on Thursday that feeding camps be opened inside Somalia.

“The current flow of refugees is not tenable and it may get to a point where the burden will be too great to bear,” Mutua said.

“A more viable solution that really assists the drought-driven refugees needs to be arrived at.”

The new Dadaab camp, called Ifo II, was built last year to accommodate 40,000 refugees but remains closed.

However, Georgieva said she understood the Kenyan government was facing major challenges, with the drought also affecting its own citizens.

“We will discuss this with the Kenyan government,” Georgieva said, when questioned if she would push for the camp to open.

“Kenya is already pressured by the drought and the refugees coming in.”

Kenya’s deputy internal security minister Orwa Ojode has called on the African Union to help relocate refugees to a third country.

“We have asked the AU to assist to relocate the refugees to another country because our camps are becoming too congested,” Ojode said.

Donor countries have ramped up aid pledges to assist the drought-stricken millions, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon calling for $1.6 billion in aid to combat the crisis.

But relief efforts inside southern Somalia are hampered by the refusal of the Al Qaeda-inspired insurgents — who control both areas declared by the UN to be famine-struck — to lift an aid ban on several foreign aid groups.

Georgieva called on aid to be allowed to reach those who need it.

“I hope there is access to humanitarian aid in Somalia,” she said, calling the Shebab organization a “dragon with many heads.”

The UN has warned that up to 350,000 people in famine areas risk starvation, with the crisis likely to spread to all eight of southern Somalia’s regions if aid is not urgently supplied.

The Shebab, designated a terrorist group by the United States, have waged a bloody campaign to overthrow the country’s Western-backed government they accuse of being an apostate administration.

Somalia’s government also condemned the Shebab’s aid restrictions, calling the group “callous terrorists.”

“The extremists are literally and deliberately starving the people to death,” said Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, in a statement released late on Friday.

The government’s authority in the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu is limited to just a few areas where it survives under the protection of a 9,000-strong African Union force.

“It is the insurgency itself that is the root cause of the famine,” Ali added.


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