|Amos visited the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya earlier this week to assess aid efforts in the Horn of Africa [AFP]
The United Nations' humanitarian chief says aid efforts in drought-stricken Somalia and the Horn of Africa need to be scaled up to save the lives of millions facing starvation.
"There are still many lives that need to be saved in the Horn of Africa," Valerie Amos, the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told a news conference in New York on Wednesday.
Amos, who had just returned from a three-day visit to Kenya and Somalia, called for "more food and nutritional supplies, water, sanitation and hygiene equipment, and medical care to those who are in desperate need."
"We’re faced with a still spreading famine in Somalia and with such a scale of suffering that every effort needs to be made and sustained in the months ahead."
About 3.2 million people are on the brink of starvation in Somalia, where the UN has formally declared a state of famine in five regions in the southern and central parts.
Also there are 12.4 million others across the wider region encompassing Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, who are in need of food and humanitarian assistance owing to the effects of the worst drought in decades.
Amos said the aid operation by the UN and its partners was accelerating with hot meals given daily to almost 100,000 people, clean water provided to half a million people, and an emergency measles vaccination campaign targeting 88,000 children and 46,000 women under way.
"Nonetheless, it is clear that even in Mogadishu the famine has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and it will kill many more if we do not further scale up our efforts," she said.
'Deteriorating by the day'
Andrew Mitchell, the Britain's international development secretary who recently visited the Somali capital Mogadishu, also called for urgent action.
"The stark fact is that in southern Somalia the situation is deteriorating by the day," Mitchell said Wednesday in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
Without an "urgent response" the crisis could become as bad as Somalia's 1991-2 famine, when over 200,000 people lost their lives, warned Mitchell, who visited feeding centres and camps for those fleeing extreme drought.
Britain's funding boost - to be channeled through the UN children's agency - includes two months supplementary rations for up to 192,000 people, and measles vaccinations for at least 800,000 children.
It will additionally provide $4 million for agricultural projects, including the vaccination of livestock.
Muslim nations have also pledged $350m in aid for Somalia after an emergency meeting in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday for the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC head, said he still hopes to reach the original goal of $500m with future pledges.
'Still more needed'
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are some 875,000 Somali refugees and asylum-seekers in neighbouring countries, with Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti hosting more than 90 per cent of them.
About 1.5 million more Somalis are internally displaced, mostly in the south-central region of the country. In Ethiopia, humanitarian agencies have provided food aid to some 3.5 million Ethiopians and 226,000 refugees. In Kenya, 1.3 million drought-affected people have received food aid.
So far donors have provided more than $1.3 billion to for the relief effort in the Horn of Africa, but just under $1.2 billion is still needed.
"Even as Kenyans and Ethiopians confront the impact of the drought on their own communities, they are hosting hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees who have fled conflict and famine and now live in vast, overcrowded camps," the UN's Amos said.