Emergency Food Aid Headed to Horn of Africa

(VOA)The U.N. World Food Program is set to begin its emergency airlift of food to the drought-stricken Horn of Africa on Wednesday.

WFP director Josette Sheeran says the first flights on early Wednesday will head to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Additional planes are expected to carry food to eastern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, near the Somali border. Sheeran said the U.N. agency is calling in resources and personnel from other parts of the world to respond to the crisis.

On Wednesday the U.N. plans to hold a donor’s conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, with the goal of raising up to $1.6 billion to combat the famine over the next 12 months.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke Tuesday with leaders from four Gulf states, urging them to pledge more aid to combat the « deteriorating humanitarian crisis. » Sheeran said that Saudi King Abdullah recently pledged an additional $50 million in food aid.

U.N. and U.S. officials have said more than 11 million people are in need of emergency aid to survive.

In Somalia alone, Sheeran said about one-third of the population is facing starvation – and she said people tell of having to leave dying family members behind as they continue their long journeys in search of help.

Access to southern Somalia – where the U.N. formally declared a famine last week – has been hampered by the militant Islamist group al-Shabab. The group controls large sections of the region and has denied that a famine is taking place, dismissing international assistance as political interference.

On Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency said 100,000 Somalis have arrived at Mogadishu-area camps in the past two months, and continue to come at a rate of 1,000 per day. It says hundreds of thousands of others have fled to camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.

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