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As Horn of Africa battles drought, new UN envoy prepares for first visit

As Horn of Africa battles drought, new UN envoy prepares for first visit

The United Nations humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa is heading to that drought-stricken region next week to help strengthen local and global efforts to tackle a devastating humanitarian crisis that has left millions of people facing starvation.

In his first trip to the region since his appointment by Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this month, UN Special Humanitarian Envoy Kjell Magne Bondevik will arrive Tuesday in the Horn of Africa for a three-day visit to the five countries in crisis: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya.

Mr. Bondevik, the former prime minister of Norway, will meet with national and UN officials in the five Eastern African nations and also visit drought-affected regions in Africa, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today.

The absence of rains in the region for several years has left millions of people facing starvation in the Horn. The severe drought has compounded an already dire humanitarian crisis in countries that have been dealing with years of high malnutrition and morbidity rates, chronic food shortages and man-made conflicts.

Last month, the UN World Food Program (WFP) estimated that the drought is impacting 2.5 million people in Kenya, 1.4 million in Somalia, 1.5 million in Ethiopia and 60,000 in Djibouti. At that time, the agency urged donors to provide immediate food aid for 5.4 million people as many children in the Horn of Africa were eating only one meal a day.

Nearly two weeks ago the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appealed for $16 million to expand its relief efforts in the region and said 1.5 million children under the age of five were facing the ravages of drought.

Failing crops and the death of livestock significantly contribute to increased malnutrition among children, while measles threaten their survival as immunization rates are low in the affected areas, the agency said in a statement. Children weakened by malnutrition also face a much higher risk of infection, and measles can spread lethally and quickly among unprotected populations.

Just yesterday, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) appealed for $18.5 million to help farmers, herders and others suffering through drought in southeastern Ethiopia. The funds would be used for to save the lives of the livestock that are a key household asset for many families and help farmers grow their crops.