Horn of Africa Leaders Meet to Discuss Plans to Beat Famine

Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Heads of state from Horn of Africa nations met in Nairobi to discuss ways of ending a drought in the region that the United Nations says is killing hundreds of people every day.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, his Somali counterpart, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, are among five government leaders from the most affected nations who attended the talks today.

A draft summit declaration urges donors to boost technical and financial support for Somalia’s transitional federal government and calls for the creation of a “multi-donor” trust fund for regional disasters. It also requires governments to increase land under irrigation, boost forest cover and improve the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists.

Following two unseasonably dry rainy seasons, about 13.3 million people are in need of assistance, up from a previous estimate of 12.4 million, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an e-mailed statement today.

The most severely affected country is Somalia, where six areas in the south are experiencing a famine that has put 750,000 people at risk of starvation, Mark Bowden, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, said on Sept. 5. Tens of thousands of people have died from the crisis, Bowden said.

Aid agencies are mostly barred from operating in areas in Somalia held by al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel group that has been fighting the Western-backed government since 2007.

Somali Exodus

The situation has prompted more than 250,000 Somalis to flee the country since the start of the year, with the lion’s share going to neighboring Kenya as well as Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti, according to OCHA, as the UN agency is known.

Dadaab in northern Kenya, the world’s largest refugee complex, now hosts more than 500,000 people, Kibaki told the conference today. It was designed to house 90,000 people when it opened in 1991.

“The continuous flow of refugees undermines national and regional security arrangements,” Kibaki said. “It has become more difficult to control the smuggling of small arms and light weapons into neighboring countries.”

The drought is a demonstration of climate change linked to man-made greenhouse-gas emissions, which rich countries are responsible for, leaving Africa with no choice but to “mitigate and adapt,” said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

Aid Pledges

Africa contributes less than 3.5 percent of global carbon emissions, according to the UN’s Environment Program.

African nations promised $351.7 million in cash and $28 million in other forms of aid at a conference in Ethiopia last month. The crisis will persist until at least the end of the year, because even if expected rains come in October it will take time to cultivate crops, Bowden said.

About 62 percent of the $2.4 billion required to address the crisis has been raised, according to the UN humanitarian aid office.

“Often to get food aid is 10 times more in cost than actually to have sustained production on the ground,” Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist, told reporters today in Nairobi. “If we look at the longer term, the idea of simply going from crisis to crisis, from devastation to devastation, is the most costly approach of all.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at smcgregor5@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.