ISTANBUL (AP) — The United Nations appealed for $1.2 billion Wednesday for famine victims in Somalia and its Horn of Africa neighbors and Muslim nations pledged to contribute $350 million.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the head of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the amount fell short of the $500 million the group, known as the Islamic Conference, was aiming for. But he said after an emergency meeting in Istanbul he still hoped the figure would be reached with future pledges.
In New York, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who just returned from Somalia and Kenya, thanked donors who have already contributed a total of $1.3 billion but said the U.N. needs nearly double that amount.
"We need to get more food and nutritional supplies, water, sanitation and hygiene equipment and medical care to those who are in desperate need," she said.
"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," Amos said. "That's why we are still appealing for an additional $1.2 billion. There are still many lives that need to be saved in the Horn of Africa."
Participants in the Islamic Conference's emergency meeting to discuss assistance to Somalia agreed to form a "food security mechanism" that would aim to prevent a similar crisis in the future, said the group's term chairman, Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerzhan Khazykhanov.
Earlier, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged rich nations in the West and in the Muslim world to come to Somalia's aid, saying they bore some responsibility for the crisis for ignoring the poverty in the country.
In his opening speech, Erdogan said that Islam dictates "that you do not go to bed full if your neighbor is hungry."
"If we had fulfilled our responsibilities, would our brethren nation Somalia be in this situation?" he asked.
"This is a test for civilization, for wealthy countries, for G-20 members and countries where the (gross domestic product) per capita is 20, 30, 40 thousand dollars," he added.
In a swipe at Western nations, Erdogan said: "Of course we cannot expect those who have throughout history exploited the resources of Somalia and of Africa, to show sensitivity to the tragedy."
More than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa need food aid, according to the United Nations.
But the situation has become far more grave in Somalia because al-Qaida-linked militants have banned many aid organizations from distributing food in the areas under their control. Members of al-Shabab have even killed people trying to flee southern Somalia, saying it is better to starve than accept help from the West.
Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief, told reporters that aid operations are reaching new areas. She said more than 500 nutrition centers are operating in al-Shabab controlled areas in southern Somalia.
The U.N. estimates that 2.8 million Somalis need food aid, and 2.2 million of them live outside the capital in areas controlled by the rebels.
The U.N. refugee agency reported that 875,000 Somalis fleeing famine have crossed borders — and over 90 percent are in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Another 1.5 million are in south central Somalia, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The agency is appealing for 45,000 more tents because about 1,500 Somalis are arriving in Kenya every day and between 200 and 300 are arriving daily in Ethiopia, Haq said.
Amos said the U.N. has provided food to some 3.5 million Ethiopians and 226,000 refugees, to virtually everyone in need in Djibouti, and to 1.3 million of the 2.7 million drought-affected people in Kenya.
While the situation in these countries "has not reached famine proportions and is not expected to," Amos said they do need additional international help.
Turkey has collected about $110 million in public donations for Somalia so far and has flown in several tons of food and medical aid. Ihsanoglu said Wednesday that Turkey had pledged $150 million to the organization's fund.
Erdogan travels to the country on Thursday to visit refugee camps in the region and to formally open a Turkish camp and field hospital.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations