East Africa famine draws $35M in Canadian donations

Canadians have donated $35.8 million to famine relief in East Africa as time runs down on the government's commitment to match donations.
Refugees from southern Somalia fill receptacles with rain water, at a refugee camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, Sept. 5, 2011. About 750,000 more people may die from famine in the next four months if there is no adequate response, the UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia said, an increase of 66 percent from July. Canadians have so far contributed $35.8 million to aid agencies doing famine relief work. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press)

Canadians have donated $35.8 million to famine relief in East Africa as time runs down on the government's commitment to match donations.

The current total is as of Sept. 2, with two weeks left in the matching period, a government official said.

The federal government has pledged to match donations to eligible charities until Sept. 16 as Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia grapple with the worst drought in 60 years.

The combination of drought, the region's political instability and armed militants have left thousands fleeing in search of food. Many have ended up in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp.

The Canadian government has contributed $72 million to aid agencies working in East Africa. The money to match however much Canadians donate by Sept. 16 will be on top of that.

Patricia Erb, president of Save the Children Canada, says the aid agencies needs more money to do the work required. She says her organization's goal is to work with children under five, but they've had to limit their work to children under three years old.

"We just need more [money]. This is the problem," she said.

UNICEF estimates 250 children are dying every day in the region – one every six minutes, she said.

"This is not acceptable in our world to have this [number] of children dying from hunger. And so we all need to do more. There's generosity in the Canadian public and the Canadian government has responded, but we just need more."

Erb spoke from Nairobi, Kenya, on her way to Dadaab, where Save the Children provides food and clean water. The agency also helps reunite children who get separated from their families, and provides child-friendly spaces for kids traumatized by the voyage to the camp.

"Sometimes these are children that have seen very shattering things on the road," Erb said.

The aid agencies are hoping Canadian donations will pick up again now that people are back from summer vacation and are planning for one last push before the matching funds deadline.