Red Cross seeks funds to feed 1.1 mn in Shebab areas

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The international Red Cross called upon donor nations Thursday to double its Somalia budget so it can feed more than a million people hit by famine in areas controlled by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.

Increasing the budget by some 67 million francs (61 million euros) to around 120 million francs would feed 1.1 million people for three months in central and south Somalia, International Committee of the Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger told reporters.

"With this budget extension, now Somalia becomes by far our largest humanitarian operation," Kellenberger said, noting that these areas controlled by Al-Shebab rebels have great needs but access is poor due to conflict.

"Given the very serious, extremely worrying situation in the area, we came to the conclusion we had to increase very substantially our budget, which means our activities," Kellenberger said.

As the United Nations had trouble accessing the area, "it is clear that the ICRC in such a context plays a leading role. It has access and operational capabilities others have not," he added.

Kellenberger assured the aid would strictly be used for humanitarian relief, suggesting that supplies would not fall into rebel hands.

"It is ICRC policy not just to hand over food and goods to other organisations, but to make sure we have under control the distribution," he said.

"Somalia is what you could call a typical ICRC context. It is an armed conflict, compounded by a very serious drought. It is an area where people are already weakened since long years," he said.

The United Nations said Wednesday that famine has widened from two regions in southern Somalia to three others, including the capital Mogadishu, as severe drought wiped out livestock and left millions in need of food and water in the country which is already suffering from civil war.

It is also requesting $2.48 billion to provide assistance to 12.4 million drought-hit people across the Horn of Africa region.

© 2011 AFP

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