Canadians have donated $20 million so far to try to help drought-ravaged East Africa, the federal government said Wednesday.

The government will match donations to eligible charities operating in the region if they're made between July 6 and Sept. 16.

Conservative MP Lois Brown, parliamentary secretary to Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda, said even small donations could save a life.

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Starving people from famine-struck countries in East Africa have been crowding into aid camps. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press )

"Our African friends' determination and courage in the face of this catastrophe must be matched by our willingness to help," she said.

Care Canada's Kevin McCort said more than 50 per cent of the arrivals at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya are younger than 11. Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled to the camp that was already home to 300,000 people.

"It is an unfortunate reality that when disasters and emergencies strike, it is the vulnerable who are most affected," he said.

Where the money goes

The Canadian government announced $50 million in July to help people starving in the worst drought East Africa has faced in 60 years.

Some of that money has already gone to aid agencies working in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. About half the money announced by the government – $25.5 million – has gone to the World Food Program to help with general and targeted food distribution.

The NGOs have also called for donations from Canadians, with the government promising to match those donations through further funding going to the charities.

Here's what they're spending on so far.

  • World Food Program: $25.5 million to help feed 11.5 million drought-affected people in the region.
  • UN High Commission for Refugees: $7 million to address basic needs for 582,000 displaced Somalis.
  • UNICEF: $5 million for therapeutic food, vaccines and educational supplies.
  • Oxfam: $3.75 million to provide water, sanitation services, cash relief and cash for work projects, as well as promoting health and protecting livestock. 
  • Care Canada: $3.75 million to reach severely malnourished children under five and pregnant or lactating women, including in the Dadaab refugee camp. Also providing drinking water and physical security for the camp.
  • Action Contre La Faim: $2.35 million to give health and nutrition support at refugee camps in Ethiopia.
  • World Vision Canada: $1.2 million for water in Somalia. 
  • Plan Canada: $1 million to deliver water, food and shelter, and promote hygiene , as well as provide farming supplies and high-protein, calorie-rich food supplements.
  • UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs: $350,000 to co-ordinate aid and work with local officials.
  • UN Department of Safety and Security: $100,000 to provide security support.

On July 22, Oda announced $50 million in new funding and said half of it would be directed to the World Food Program while the rest would be divided up among other United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations working in the region.

The Canadian International Development Agency had already committed $22.35 million in aid money to East Africa before July's announcement of $50 million more.

The government's donation-matching cash will go into a fund to which aid groups can apply for further funding. So if someone donates $50 to Care Canada, the extra $50 provided through the  government's matching program will go into a wider funding pool, rather than specifically to Care Canada.

Aid delivery hindered by militants, theft

Delivery of aid in Somalia has been hampered by militant groups who are preventing it from reaching starving people in refugee camps. The Associated Press reported this week that some food aid is being stolen and sold for cash in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. The World Food Program for the first time acknowledged it has been investigating food theft in Somalia for two months. 

It said that the "scale and intensity" of the famine crisis, however, does not allow for a suspension of assistance, saying that doing so would lead to "many unnecessary deaths."

McCort says missing food is a big concern for the NGOs, but so far the losses aren't worse than usual.

"Historically, organizations like the WFP, Care and Oxfam and others have seen very low percentage losses. We're feeding millions of people. The tonnages are very high. It's unfortunate when any is lost, but at the moment the losses as a percentage of total flow are still very small," he said.

Canadian aid organizations are reaching millions of people, McCort said, providing food, water, shelter, sanitation, hygiene support, health services, farming supplies and cash for work support.

The food supplies include a protein-like corn or a corn-soy blend, he said, plus beans, pulses, cooking oil, sugar and salt.

While much of the focus has been on Somalia and the refugee camps in Kenya where Somalis are fleeing for help, thousands of people in Ethiopia are at risk of dying, according to reports this week.

The Ethiopian government says 250,000 people are in need of emergency food assistance because of the drought but an aid organization puts the number closer to 700,000.

Donations slow so far

Donations have not been pouring in at a fast pace, according to the aid groups. The Humanitarian Coalition said Friday that along with the Red Cross, its members have raised about $12 million so far for relief efforts.

Miriam Palacios of Oxfam Canada said donor fatigue is an issue for East African relief efforts.

Brown says Canadians are generous and she expects them to step up to the plate.

"We're only half-way through the contributing period," she noted.

The UN says it has only raised $1.1 billion of the $2.4 billion requested from donor countries for famine relief in the Horn of Africa. More than 12 million people need urgent aid following a severe drought, according to the UN. Somalia is one of the hardest hit countries and nearly half the population, about 3.2 million, need food.

So far this year, the United States has committed the most money — about $580 million — and Britain is the second-biggest donor at $205 million.