WASHINGTON — US officials pledged Thursday to work for permanent solutions to ease hunger in the Horn of Africa, warning that Somalia remained a major crisis even though its famine is officially over.
The United Nations estimates that tens of thousands died in the half-year famine. The world body said on February 3 that famine no longer existed but that at least 2.34 million people -- a third of Somalia -- needed support.
US officials, testifying before Congress, credited better rains for the improved conditions and said the ultimate solution was to bring stability to lawless Somalia, where Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels had hindered foreign aid.
"The rains ahead are uncertain and we have to underscore that, even as famine has abated, the situation is still one of the most severe crises globally," said Nancy Lindborg, a senior official at the US Agency for International Development.
Lindborg said that the United States and other major donors would meet in Kenya in late March to support longer-term Horn of Africa plans, which have included vaccinating livestock and encouraging alternative livelihoods.
She credited such efforts in Ethiopia -- where foreign aid workers have much more access than Somalia -- with ensuring that 7.6 million people did not require food assistance during the drought.
"We cannot afford to let people slide into crisis every couple of years and respond with massive humanitarian assistance," she told a congressional commission on human rights.
Lindborg said that the United States provided $935 million during the crisis, ensuring direct food assistance to 4.6 million people and emergency health care for nearly one million more.
In the next five years, Lindborg said, the United States wanted to ensure that 500,000 people permanently escape hunger in Ethiopia and that in Kenya, 700,000 people will see higher incomes and improved nutrition.
USAID chief Rajiv Shah, testifying Tuesday before the Senate, said that the United States provided some 60 percent of the global response to the famine and was convinced the effort saved "tens of thousands of lives."
But aid groups Oxfam and Save the Children in a report in January said that donors could have prevented deaths if they acted more quickly. The groups said a full-scale response did not begin until a year after signs of an emergency.
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