Oxfam seeks $35m in aid for East Africa

British charity Oxfam International on Thursday launched its biggest food-crisis aid appeal to date, asking for more than $35-million to save millions in drought-hit East Africa.

The appeal for the funds, the organisation’s largest single call for donations to avert a food crisis in its 60-year history, came as the United Nations warned that recent rains across the region were not enough to alleviate suffering.

Oxfam director Barbara Stocking said the situation—which has put more people at risk than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami—was critical and urgent assistance was needed for at least 11-million people across East Africa.

“This crisis might be getting less attention than the tsunami did but the number of people needing help is even greater,” she said. “The severity of this crisis means assistance is needed on a huge scale.”

Although other Oxfam appeals have brought in more than the £20-million target for East Africa, the group said Thursday’s call marked “the first time Oxfam has gone to the public with such a large request.”

“The British public’s generosity has helped pull whole regions back from the brink in the past; we now need their help to do that again,” Stocking said in a statement released in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Kenya, along with Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia have been badly hit by the drought and Oxfam’s appeal is the latest in a series issued by UN and private relief agencies. Burundi and Tanzania are also affected.

At least 50 drought-related deaths have been reported since December in northern Kenya alone, where tens of thousands of livestock—up to 70% of herds in some pastoralist areas—have also perished.

Human and animal deaths have also been reported in southern and central Somalia and southern Ethiopia, although the numbers are unknown given the remoteness and inaccessibility of the regions.

Conditions have been made worse by recent heavy rains that have inundated parched soil, causing floods that have displaced thousands, disrupted aid distribution and raised fears of the spread of water-borne illnesses.

“Ironically, these rains bring little respite,” the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement released in Nairobi.

“While they have alleviated the immediate need for water, there is increased risk of people falling sick from drinking contaminated water, while livestock deaths have continued because the animals are too weak and vulnerable to diseases such as pneumonia when temperatures drop at night,” it said.

“There is no quick fix to this emergency after five consecutive poor seasons.”

Earlier this month, the UN launched an urgent $426-million appeal for East Africa this year, warning that tens of thousands of people were dying of malnutrition and associated diseases.

Like that one, Oxfam is seeking money for emergency distribution of food, water and other humanitarian supplies as well as for longer-term development projects to help residents of drought-prone areas avert possible future crises.

“We want to help people across the region to recover and be in a better position when the next crisis hits,” Stocking said.—AFP

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