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US plans more aid for Somalia famine as Jill Biden visits refugee camp

The US is expected to announce an extra $95 million in urgent US aid to help victims of the famine plaguing the Horn of Africa, as aid groups sound the alarm that they are still far short of what they need to address the humanitarian crisis spanning Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

More than 12.5 million people in the region need urgent food aid to survive until the next rains, which are due in November and are predicted to be below average once again. A little more than half of the $2.5 billion the United Nations says is required to respond to that need has so far been pledged.

The US is the largest donor to the UN’s Horn of Africa appeal, committing $58 million before President Obama announced the newest pledge.

Today Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, visited Dagahaley refugee camp, one of four camps that have sprung up in the Kenyan town of Dadaab. Together they are now hosting 440,000 Somalis fleeing famine and war in their country.

The refugee camps surrounding the town sit on a flat, sandy plain where the only green left is that of leaves on poisonous trees. Make-shift shelters made of rags and plastic stretched over domes of twigs lie behind thorn-bush fences that catch trash blown about by the constant hot wind.

People queue for water, if they have been registered as refugees. Others, newly arrived, squat in the meagre shade of acacia trees waiting for aid workers to give them emergency rations.

Biden was accompanied by USAID head Raj Shah, former US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and a series of other senior Obama administration officials. It was the highest-profile US delegation to visit the region since famine was officially declared in Somalia last month.

“I think that there needs to be a greater awareness worldwide of what is going on here in Kenya and the dire situation here,” Mrs. Biden said.

“One of the reasons to be here is to ask Americans, and people worldwide, to reach just a little bit deeper into their pockets and give money to help these poor mothers and children.”

More than 29,000 Somali children have died since the crisis deepened two months ago, according to US figures reported last week.

Mr. Shah, the USAID administrator, said “there are models that imply that we could get into the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the coming months.”

Today’s one-day mission was designed to galvanize US response to an emergency, which has so far failed to grab the attention it needs, Frist said.

“By coming here, by people hearing the messages that Dr. Biden is talking about, we’re hoping to reach at least a million more Americans who would otherwise not hear about this,” he said. “The need is now, but it is important that we get across the message that we need continued investments in this part of the world to better be able to cope in the future.”

In Dadaab’s Dagahaley camp, Biden met Fatuma Adem, a mother of four children who walked from Somalia to safety in Kenya a week ago.

Before a scrum of international journalists and Washington staffers, Adem told Biden that her 6-month old daughter had grown sicker over the last two months.

“I don’t know who that lady is,” she told the Monitor after meeting Biden, “but I just hope that she can help my family.”

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