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'Disaster' Looms Over 15 Million in Africa's Horn, WFP Warns

A humanitarian disaster affecting 15 million people in the Horn of Africa is imminent unless funds are provided for supplies, an aid agency alerted Tuesday.

The World Food Program said $403 million is urgently needed to feed the hungry people in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda until the end of the year, according to Agence France-Presse.

People living in this region are suffering from a combination of prolonged drought, rising food cost, conflict and piracy.

"If we do not get this assistance urgently, there will be disaster in this region," WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon said.

"What is worrying is the drought and rising food prices. It means that many people are going to be sent into destitution," he said, adding that the number will explode if the September-October rain fails.

Of particular concern are Somalia and Ethiopia, where the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the humanitarian situation had reached "emergency levels."

In conflict-ravaged Somalia, at least 2.6 million people are facing acute shortages. And aid agencies are not only worrying about meeting the food demands, but also how to deliver it to Somalis.

Ships delivering supplies have been looted by pirates, while aid workers have been killed and abducted inside the country that has been wracked with lawlessness for 17 years.

Meanwhile in Ethiopia, some 4.6 million people need emergency food support, up from 2.2 million from the period between January and March 2008. Another 5.7 million drought-infected Ethiopians need extended support, such as food and cash.

"If we do not get 28 million dollars to help feed and treat children in Ethiopia, they will die," warned Per Engebak, the UNICEF chief for eastern and southern Africa.

Tearfund and Catholic Relief Services are some of the Christian agencies that have witnessed the effects of poor rains in the Horn of Africa. U.K-based Tearfund has donated funds to a local Ethiopian Church that is running a food-for-work program.

Meanwhile in Kenya, the aid agency is working with Christian Community Services of Mount Kenya East to help with drought recovery and drought preparedness work.

Catholic Relief Service is also working in Ethiopia to distribute food donated by the U.S. government as well as its own private purchased food to help Ethiopians survive the extended drought. It is also working with local diocesan partners to feed malnourished children.

Other countries in desperate need of food include Kenya, which is still recovering from post-election violence and has 1.2 million people in need of urgent supplies. The rural region of Karamoja in Uganda has 707,000 people in need of food, and 80,000 are experiencing acute food crisis in Djibouti, aid agencies reported.

"Please pray that the rains due now will be sufficient for a good harvest," Tearfund urged. "Pray that those most in need will receive all the help they require, and pray that agencies will find a way to distribute food in Somalia, despite the conflict."

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