African Union pledges $380 million for famine aid

LUC VAN KEMENADE - Associated Press
View photos
Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelle, center, arrives at the Economic Commission of Africa, ECA, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 to attend the pledging conference on Somalia famine.(AP Photo/Elias Asmare)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — African leaders pledged nearly $380 million to help famine-hit families in the Horn of Africa during a donor conference held Thursday.

The African Development Bank announced in a statement a donation of $300 million for long-term development in the Horn of Africa, to be spent by 2013. African nations also pledged $28.8 million in food donations during the conference, held at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia's capital.

African leaders promised to donate $51 million, the most generous donors being Algeria with $10 million, Egypt with $6 million and Angola with $5 million.

"This is what we pledged today, it is new money and exclusively African," said AU chairman Jean Ping.

African leaders had been criticized for not doing enough to help those affected by the famine. The U.N. says 12.4 million people need food aid and tens of thousands have died. Aid groups had said they wanted at least $50 million from Thursday's conference.

The Horn of Africa has been suffering from a devastating drought that has been compounded by civil war in Somalia, bad governance and spiraling food prices for months. The U.N. has said five regions in Somalia are suffering from famine but hunger is also widespread in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. No information is available about Eritrea but people there are also believed to be suffering.

Minimal contributions and a slow response had provoked criticism from the donor community.

"It is sad but people have to die before our political leaders take action," said Oxfam Pan Africa director Irungu Houghton.

AU chairman Jean Ping said that Africa's response is not "too little, too late."

He said that in order to be as transparent and accountable as possible, the AU will channel the money through U.N. agencies.

"I think that we are facing indeed the most dramatic humanitarian problem in today's world in the Horn of Africa," Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told The Associated Press in an interview in London.

Guterres said that, though his own agency and others were quickly escalating their response, the scale of the crisis was difficult to match.

"It is important to be able to support these people in their villages, instead of forcing them into this dramatic flight" into neighboring nations, he said.


Associated Press writer David Stringer and Associated Press Television News producer Joana Mateus in London contributed to this report.