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UN Holds Pledging Event for Horn Humanitarian Crisis

FILE — Maasai children run past a zebra that local residents said died due to drought, as they graze their cattle at Ilangeruani village, near Lake Magadi, in Kenya, on Nov. 9, 2022.

The United Nations convened a high-level pledging event Wednesday at its headquarters in New York, where member states and partners will be encouraged to commit financial support to the Horn of Africa crisis.

In response to the U.N. funding appeal, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield has announced $524 million in additional funding to respond to the humanitarian needs in the region, totaling the U.S.' humanitarian response efforts to more than $1.4 billion this year.

Speaking at the event, Thomas-Greenfield called the humanitarian need "a collective responsibility."

The U.N. is calling for $7 billion in new funding, citing a growing crisis and the need for urgent lifesaving intervention.

Humanitarian organizations say time is running out as affected communities have gone for months with little or no food.

"We're talking about millions of people for whom a lack of action can mean death," Karl Shembri, Norwegian Refugee Council East Africa media advisor, told VOA.

The U.N. says the region is facing the worst drought in 40 years, with more than 43.3 million people in need of assistance in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and more than half of those lacking access to sufficient food, according to the organization.

A famine is yet to be declared in Somalia, where more than 6 million people are going hungry, but some humanitarian and climate officials have warned that trends are worse than in the 2011 famine in Somalia in which a quarter-million people died.

Formal famine declarations are rare because data to meet the benchmarks often cannot be obtained because of conflict, poor infrastructure or politics.

Shembri said though the U.N. has yet the declare a famine, the severe conditions are present.

"It (hunger) is killing people and it is displacing, moving people, making millions of people more and more vulnerable having to leave everything behind," Shembri said.

He added family units have been separated and the vulnerable populations of women and children have been subjected to "walking kilometers on end and in atrocious conditions."

Local nongovernmental organizations like Somalia's Hormuud Salaam Foundation say there's need for sustained funding.

"For lasting change, we must equip local organizations and local people with the tools to face the inevitable climate shocks of tomorrow," the foundation's CEO, Abdullahi Nur Osman, told the Associated Press.

Persistent conflict in some of the affected areas, combined with climate change effects, have contributed to the growing crisis.

While drought has taken hold in areas of the Horn of Africa, parts of Somalia and Ethiopia are currently experiencing flooding during the ongoing rainy season, displacing millions of people.

Along with weather extremes, parts of Somalia are grappling with insecurity due to the al-Shabab extremist group that has carried out numerous large-scale attacks.

Northern Ethiopia experienced conflict for more than two years as regional forces clashed with national forces. Hundreds of thousands of people died and the situation remains fragile, seven months after a peace deal was signed.

Information in this report came from the Associated Press. VOA's Carol Van Dam contributed.