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UN hosts emergency meeting on Somalia famine

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[July 25, 2011]  ROME (AP) -- The World Bank promises to provide more than $500 million to help drought victims in East Africa as a U.N. agency hosts an emergency meeting aimed at fighting famine in Somalia and nearby countries.

The money would be spent on projects in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia, including the worst-stricken areas in that country "where circumstances permit," the bank said. That was a reference to al-Shabab militants, who have limited the ability of aid groups to reach victims in hard-hit southern Somalia.

The decades-old conflict in Somalia has long complicated efforts to get aid to its people. Al-Shabab denies there is famine and is preventing some Western aid groups from helping those in need. The U.N. World Food Program has said it cannot reach 2.2 million Somalis at risk of starvation.

"Immediate relief and recovery is the first priority, and it is important to act fast to reduce human suffering," said World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick in a statement.

"But we also have an eye on the long-term solutions of economic recovery and drought resilience that are key to re-establishing livelihoods and ensuring that droughts don't take such a heavy human toll in the future." He added that the world needs to invest in "climate-smart" agriculture, including drought-resistant seeds.

The one-day emergency U.N. session was being held at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization after France requested the top-level meeting.

One of the delegates arriving at the meeting said they would be talking about agriculture over the long term and "building resilience" locally, but that there is still need for emergency help.

"That needs to happen, but we also need a really urgent response," Nick Martiew, of Save the Children, told AP Television News. "Children are dying right now in East Africa and they need assistance."

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WFP estimates more than 11 million people need help in drought-hit East Africa.

U.N. officials say that in some parts of Somalia more than half the population suffers acute malnutrition. Some families fleeing famine say they lived on roots of wild plants as they walked for weeks to reach U.N. camps across the border in Kenya.

[Associated Press; By FRANCES D'EMILIO]

AP reporter Jason Straziuso in Nairobi contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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