Pope Appeals for Aid to Drought-stricken East Africa

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) – Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to deliver urgent humanitarian aid to the drought-stricken Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, where tens of thousands have fled drought and famine.

The pope, addressing pilgrims at his summer residence outside Rome July 17, said he had been following news of the region’s humanitarian catastrophe with “deep concern.” U.N. experts say the prolonged drought, combined with a rise in food prices, have forced many families to make long and often deadly overland treks to reach refugee camps.

“Innumerable people are fleeing from that tremendous famine in search of food and assistance. I hope the international community will increase its efforts to quickly send aid to our sorely tested brothers and sisters, among them many children,” the pope said.

“Our solidarity and the concrete assistance of all people of good will should not be lacking,” he said.

On July 16, the Vatican announced it was making an initial aid contribution of 50,000 euros ($70,000) for the victims of the crisis in Somalia. The funds were sent in the pope’s name from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum to Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who also serves as apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, Somalia.

Most of those fleeing Somalia have headed toward refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, walking across a barren landscape in journeys that have taken more than a month. Many mothers arriving in the camps have described losing children along the way to disease and malnutrition.

The drought in eastern Africa has been reported as the worst in 60 years, and U.N. officials say it has placed the lives of 11 million people at risk.

U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said July 17 that U.N. agencies have requested $1.6 billion to pay for life-saving programs in the region, but so far have reached only half that amount.

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