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On World Humanitarian Day, UN officials focus on Horn of Africa crisis

(Xinhua)

10:48, August 20, 2011

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- United Nations officials and staff members gathered here on Friday to mark the third annual World Humanitarian Day, singling out the devastating famine crisis in the Horn of Africa as they urgently called on aid efforts to be stepped up.

"World Humanitarian Day should prompt all partners to give -- and give more -- to end the suffering," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a special event marking the day in the General Assembly Hall.

Paying tribute to the aid workers who have given their lives to help others, Ban highlighted the dangers that these humanitarians face as they reach out to people in enduring conflict, disaster and hardship.

Launched by the United Nations in 2008, the day also commemorates the anniversary of the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad that killed 22 UN staff, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, then UN top envoy in Iraq.

Under this year's theme of "people helping people," the United Nations stressed the need for more aid the midst of the devastating famine in the Horn of Africa.

"World Humanitarian Day is a celebration of men and women around the world who have decided to dedicate their lives to helping others, no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they believe," said Ban. "Of course, our eyes and hearts are fixed on the people of the Horn of Africa."

In East Africa, tens of thousands have died and millions are struggling to survive. Ban warned that "the crisis has still not peaked" and that the international community is still not reaching all the people who need help.

"Governments, civic groups and ordinary citizens can each make a difference, Ban said. "Together we can rescue a generation of people in the Horn of Africa and help secure their future."

While Somalia is the worst affected country, neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are also suffering. More than 12 million people across the Horn of Africa have faced severe food shortages.

Joining the secretary-general, Valerie Amos, under-secretary- general for humanitarian affairs, warned that "we are still not reaching nearly enough people, and we still need more than a billion dollars to provide all of the aid and the help that is needed."

"We're asking people everywhere to get involved however they can in the work that we do," Amos said.

At a press conference here, Anthony Lake, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), also highlighted the deteriorating situation in the region, saying it is a "human disaster becoming a human catastrophe."

"The situation is terrible now, tens of thousands have already died, more than 300,000 children across the region are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of dying," he said.

Lake emphasized that children are often the most vulnerable when it comes to disasters.

"In Somalia alone, almost a million and a half children are affected by this crisis. Their plight demands and deserves our most urgent, bold and sustained response," Lake added.

Despite efforts from the humanitarian community, Lake believes the crisis will get worse.

"There will be no major harvest until the beginning of next year and these are predicted to be below average," he said.

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