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Mercy Corps rushes aid to drought victims in Africa’s Horn

Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, July 20, 2011

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Cash, food and water programs will help thousands in desperate need. Agency calls for increased support from the U.S. and the international community.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps is responding to the drought in the Horn of Africa with emergency operations in northeastern Kenya, and plans to build on existing work in hard-hit Ethiopia and Somalia. The United Nations today declared a famine in parts of Somalia, where the U.S. government estimates that nearly three million people are in need of assistance. More than ten million people may be at risk as the region suffers the worst drought in 60 years.

“The drought has had a devastating impact; millions are on the move looking for food and water,” said Matthew Lovick, Mercy Corps Africa Director. “Traditional herders and their families have been hit the hardest, and women, children and the elderly are the first ones succumbing to starvation and disease.”

Mercy Corps will focus its efforts on the most vulnerable people in villages and towns. “If we can deliver food, water and other resources to people where they are today, it’s less likely they’ll move to severely strained, overcrowded camps like Dadaab tomorrow,” explained Lovick, referring to the Dadaab camp in northeast Kenya that thousands of refugees have been flowing into daily. ”Keeping people out of camps is a priority.”

Following a recent assessment in northeast Kenya, Mercy Corps will start emergency response operations in Wajir County this week. The agency’s work will likely include vouchers for food and water, cash for work, water trucking and purification of water. The agency’s assessment noted that food, and in some cases even water, is available in much of the region, but people lack income to pay for these resources.

In Ethiopia and Somalia, Mercy Corps expects to build on its strong record of helping people access food and water, and increase their incomes. The agency is currently helping 150,000 people through programs like emergency food distributions, clean water delivery and cash-for-work activities.

Mercy Corps experts say that the international community, particularly the U.S. government, must step up its response to the crisis. “The assistance provided by donors has started to increase but still falls far short of what’s needed,” said Mercy Corps Policy Director Jeremy Konyndyk. “In Somalia in particular, where no US support is reaching many of the most-affected areas, aid shortfalls are costing lives.” U.S. aid to Somalia dropped off sharply after militants took over much of country’s south in 2009.

The region’s drought crisis has been growing steadily for months. The Horn of Africa typically has fall and spring rainy seasons. This year, neither happened and rivers are at their lowest levels in recent memory. Many of the region’s inhabitants are traditional herders who rely on livestock, which are now dying in massive numbers due to lack of feed and water. Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled to border areas of Ethiopia and Kenya in desperation.

HOW TO HELP:

Mercy Corps
Horn of Africa Hunger Crisis
Dept NR
PO Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208
www.mercycorps.org
1-800-852-2100