Children suffer from drought-stricken eastern Africa

Women and children in arid northeastern Kenya are begging along roadsides for water and food from motorists, the U.N.'s World Food Program said Friday as it appealed to donors to help some 5 million people affected by drought across east Africa. Governments and international agencies have tried to draw attention to the worsening impact of drought in the region. Preliminary assessments show those affected include an estimated 2.5 million in Kenya, 1.4 million in Somalia, 1.5 million in Ethiopia and 60,000 in Djibouti, according to the U.N. food aid agency. The health of children getting just one meal a day is deteriorating. The livestock on which many families depend for food are dying in large numbers from exhaustion and lack of water and food. "While final figures on the number of people in need of urgent assistance are still being established, donors must respond now if we are going to avert a humanitarian catastrophe," Holdbrook Arthur, WFP Regional Director for Eastern and Central Africa, said in a statement.

"Pastoralists living in these arid, remote lands have very few survival strategies left and desperately require our assistance to make it through until the next rains," WFP's Arthur said Friday in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Thursday, the head of the U.N.

environment agency linked the impact of the drought to environmental damage to forests, grasslands, wetlands and other critical ecosystems as well as global climate change "Drought is no stranger to the peoples of East Africa. It is a natural climatic phenomenon. What has dramatically changed in recent decades is the ability of nature to supply essential services like water and moisture during hard times," Klaus Toepfer said, according to a statement from the Nairobi-based U.N. Environment Program. "This is because so much of nature's water and rain-supplying services have been damaged, destroyed or cleared."

There are indications that the number of people in need in Kenya could rise as the year progresses, WFP's Arthur said. "This is of grave concern, especially as WFP's current emergency operation is inadequately funded, and without additional contributions, we could be forced to halt our much-needed food assistance in February," Arthur said, reports the AP. N.U.

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