April 27, 2011 / 5:13 PM / 9 years ago

Drought, scant aid funds worsen East Africa hunger

* Libya, Ivory Coast crises hit funding

* Poor rains have led to failed harvests

By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI, April 27 (Reuters) - Drought has left more than 8 million people in the Horn of Africa short of food and water, and the number could rise sharply if funding to help them is not increased, British aid groups said on Wednesday.

“The current drought has the potential to be as devastating as that of 2009 if appropriate action is not taken immediately,” said the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies (CBHA), hosted by Save the Children.

In 2009, over 20 million people in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea faced life-threatening food and water shortages following consecutive years of failed rains, the CBHA said in a statement.

“We know the lessons from previous disasters and we have a moral responsibility to act, but we are limited by this lack of funding at a critical time,” said CBHA director Sean Lowrie.

Agencies say donor funding for emergencies in the region is being hit by the demands of simultaneous crises in Libya and Ivory Coast.

The CBHA said poor rains in the Horn of Africa have led to failed harvests, acute water and pasture shortages, and the deaths of thousands of animals.

Thousands of people have already fled their homes in search of water and grass for their livestock, it added.

Ethiopia has the largest number of people in need, with 2.8 million. Irish aid agency GOAL said poor farmers are struggling to grow the crops they need to feed their families, particularly in the southwest.

Its staff have detected signs of a worsening situation, including rampant inflation of food prices on local markets, dying cattle and a rise in the number of people attending feeding centres.

But the crisis is most intense in war-torn Somalia, where 32 percent of the population, or 2.4 million people, require humanitarian aid, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nairobi.

DELAYED RAINS

That figure is set to rise because of a delay in the important March-to-June long rains, which are predicted to be below normal.

“The rains have been late starting and inadequate in northern regions,” said Grainne Moloney, chief technical adviser to the Somalia food security unit of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Combined with displacement due to conflict and restricted humanitarian access, this is likely to push many more Somalis into “deeper crisis”, FAO said in a statement.

There has been a “historical lack of interest” in funding Somalia, largely due to the insecurity caused by its long-running civil war, according to Matt Croucher, Save the Children’s regional emergency manager.

Al Shabaab rebels, who profess loyalty to al Qaeda, have refused to allow food aid to be distributed in southern and central Somalia, which they control, arguing it causes dependency.

Although FAO has been putting out drought alerts since August, agencies are still struggling to raise funds for aid in Somalia. Only a quarter of the $529 million the United Nations has requested for Somalia this year has been covered so far, OCHA said.

Ethiopia's $286 million appeal is half-funded, while Kenya has received 41 percent of the $525 million it needs to tackle water and food shortages. (Editing by Mark Trevelyan) (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit; af.reuters.com/)

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