As humanitarian organizations ramp up relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, Canadian charities say more help is needed — fast. But they add that Canadians aren't opening their wallets to donate to the cause.

The region is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. The United Nations says tens of thousands of people have already died in Somalia from causes related to malnutrition and more than 10.7 million people in East Africa have been affected.


The UN says at least $300 million is needed in the next two months to stop the spread of famine in the Horn of Africa. (Mohamed Sheikh Nor/Associated Press)

The Canadian government has contributed about $22 million in humanitarian assistance to the region this year, but the UN says at least $300 million is needed in the next two months to stop the spread of famine.

The UN has also asked members for another $1.6 billion to sustain "essential programs" in the region. Only half that amount has been received.

A number of factors are also putting a damper on donations from the Canadian public.

"Right now donations are just trickling in," says Kaleem Akhtar executive director of Human Concern International.

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He feels part of the problem is that too many Canadians are tuning out after years of hearing about conflict and strife in the troubled region.

"Africa is a region that has been forgotten. We must do much more," says Akhtar, whose organization hopes to raise $1 million for the cause by holding fundraising events across the country in the next month.

'Open their hearts'

But for HCI to reach their goal more Canadians will have to "open their hearts and open their pockets," say Akhtar.

Nick Moyer of the Humanitarian Coalition also hopes more Canadians will be giving to the relief effort. He says Canadian donations could prevent deaths from starvation and malnutrition.

"We have a real opportunity to save lives if we act quickly," he says.

The Humanitarian Coalition is an umbrella organization that includes Canadian branches of Oxfam and Save the Children.

In the past two weeks these organizations have raised about $450,000 in Canada to fight famine in East Africa. A similar but larger organization in the United Kingdom has raised £20 million ($30.59 million Cdn) in public donations in less than two weeks for the same cause.

Moyer says there are a lot of reasons why Canadians aren't giving as much, the most important being lack of media coverage of the scope of the famine. But other factors are also at play.

For one, Canadians tend to give less during summer months.

"The fact that it's summer means people are less likely to pay attention to serious news," says Moyer. "A lot of companies and businesses don't have full personnel, and decisions about giving [to charities] get delayed."

Hope for government contribution

Moyer says Canadians are also deterred by the political conflict in Somalia, where armed groups fight for control and make it hard for aid groups to reach those affected.

"Everyone has a right to feel a little bit disillusioned about that, "says Moyer. "But we have to remember that those affected are not politicians or soldiers … they are people who have no influence on their country's image worldwide."

Sallah Hamdani of Islamic Relief hopes the Canadian government will match individual donations.

"When we see that the government is willing to donate money to the cause or offer a matching program, it shows this is serious," Hamdani says.

Hamdani says people trust the government to give to worthy causes and are bound to follow suit if Canada makes a commitment to send aid.

So far Islamic Relief has raised about $300,000 in Canadian donations.

"We hope to raise over $3 or $4 million immediately," Hamdani says. "Our initial feedback has shown that the potential is there."