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$3.9 billion pledged to prevent E. Africa famines

By Tom Odula
Associated Press / April 5, 2012
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NAIROBI, Kenya—International donors say they won't allow a repeat of last year's Horn of Africa famine and are gearing up to spend billions of dollars on programs to help communities withstand cyclical droughts.

International donors have pledged to spend $3.9 billion on programs like crop resiliency over the next five years, Raj Shah, the head of the U.S. aid arm known as USAID, said in an interview late Wednesday.

The British government estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 died in last year's famine in Somalia and drought in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti. More than 12 million people needed food aid at some points. But the suffering was the worst in Somalia, where Islamist militants refused to allow in aid.

"The loss of life and the incredible human suffering was so tremendous during this last drought and we realized coming out of that ... we need to internationalize and build a global movement to make real significant investments in resilience," Shah said.

Shah said it costs less to the help people in Horn of Africa be able to withstand drought than to distribute aid during a crisis.

"Today we live a world where we know droughts will be more frequent and more common because of a changing climate in the Horn ... so we simply have got to learn from the past and make the investments that are more efficient and that save the international community resources over time because humanitarian needs go down," he said.

He said a broader commitment of resources is designed to be more efficient and allow vulnerable communities "more dignity than a cycle of drought, destruction and humanitarian assistance."

Shah said USAID, donor groups and IGAD -- a regional bloc of seven countries -- will implement programs to give people in dry-land areas and pastoral communities access to affordable water.

He said the group will also focus on protecting children from malnutrition and promote dialogue between communities so they can help each other when resources are scarce.

Shah said USAID is going to invest $280 million over the next two years in projects to promote resilience in communities in the Horn of Africa. The European Union announced Wednesday it has set aside around $310 million for the projects. The World Bank is pledging $1.8 billion. Other donors are also contributing.

The billions in pledges will be spent in countries where corruption can be a major problem. Somalia last year was ranked the most corrupt country in the world while Kenya is ranked 154th out of 183 nations by anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International. Ethiopia is ranked 120th.

Shah said the transparency and performance of many sub-Saharan African governments has been improving but corruption still exists. He said the USAID will work only with organizations that support transparency and accountability.

Anti-corruption crusader Mwalimu Mati said African governments have enough domestic resources to ensure that their citizens are insulated from drought, but because of corruption they seek external help from donors. Mati said African governments need to spend more time fighting corruption and spend less time talking about it.

"People never resign from governments, get prosecuted and jailed even after they are implicated in scandals," Mati said.

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