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Prevention is key to avoiding drought calamity in the Horn of Africa: Bertini

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The international community has a "rare opportunity" to prevent widespread loss of life from drought in the Horn of Africa, a senior United Nations official said today in a report on her recent visit to the region.
Catherine Bertini, the Special Envoy of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the drought in the Greater Horn of Africa, reported that the current crisis may affect the lives of as many as 16 million people in the region unless large-scale preventive action is taken. Meeting briefly with Ms. Bertini today in France, the Secretary-General echoed her concerns.

"Our assessment is that the situation is serious, very serious, but that if the donor community and all of us pool our efforts and if those who have the capacity for giving give and give generously and early, we might be able to divert a disaster," Mr. Annan told the press at the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris.

During her visit to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Kenya from 11-19 April, Ms. Bertini, who is also Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), had found that pastoral communities throughout the region were the most affected by the drought because they had to find food and water both for themselves and their livestock. In Ethiopia's Somali region, hundreds of people had already died due to poor water quality, lack of adequate health services and malnutrition, the report said.

The envoy recommended that a regional UN appeal, based on updated assessments, be launched in May to identify food needs and non-food requirements in the areas of health, water and livestock.

Ms. Bertini also warned that additional food would be required to cover existing shortfalls and that humanitarian aid should be well coordinated to prevent thousands of weakened people from having to travel long distances, especially across borders, to reach relief facilities.