African famine relief gets $50M more from Canada

Canada is giving at least $50 million more, in addition to the $22 million it has already donated, to aid agencies working in East Africa, International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda said Friday from Kenya.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, in Kenya, says Canadian aid will total $72M

Canada is giving at least $50 million more, in addition to the $22 million it has already donated, to aid agencies working in East Africa, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said Friday from Kenya.

Oda, who is touring a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, also announced matching funds for donations made by Canadians to eligible charities working in the region.

For every dollar donated to Canadian charities between July 6 and Sept. 16, the government will match the contribution. There is no cap on the matching funds.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda meets with UN World Food Programme officials in Nairobi, Kenya, about the East African Famine. (Canadian International Development Agency)

The money is to help manage a famine that's forcing tens of thousands of people to leave their homes in search of food and killed tens of thousands more, according to estimates by aid groups working in the region.

"Today, I saw a true humanitarian crisis at Dadaab. The stories of how the women and children struggled to reach the camp are incredible," Oda said in a news release.

"Their perseverance and courage must be matched by our willingness to help. Canada remains gravely concerned by this humanitarian crisis. Our commitment today will help bring relief to those affected, particularly for the women and children who are the most vulnerable."

The amount Oda announced exceeded even the expectations of aid agencies.

Bev Oda meets with people in Kenya. Oda toured a refugee camp in Dadaab in Friday. (CIDA)

Earlier Friday, the head of Oxfam Canada had called for the Canadian government to donate a total of $40 million for famine relief as part of the United Nation's $1.6 billion effort. Robert Fox said in times like these Canada usually donates four per cent of the global sum — in this case $40 million.

The Canadian International Development Agency will administer the funds and distribute to the organizations the agency feels are best-suited to use the money. The refugee camp houses Somalis forced out of their country in search of food. About 130,000 people have left Somalia for Kenya or Ethiopia since the start of 2011, which is seeing the worst drought in 60 years.

"Canadians have a history of generosity and willingness to help those in need, and our Government has a strong record of support for Africa," said Oda. "In response to this crisis, I am proud that the government is establishing the East Africa Drought Relief Fund, which will be used to benefit those affected by the drought."

Of the $50 million Oda announced, most will go to the UN's World Food Programme to pay for food aid. Some of the money will go to non-food items like nutrition supplements and supplies through the UN agencies, and a small portion will go to the support operating the refugee camps.

Bev Oda talks with a woman and children affected by the famine. (CIDA)

Fox said Oxfam guarantees the money will get to the 11 million who are desperately in need of food and water in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

"We have capacity on the ground, we have our staff and partners there … we have tried and true methods of working in difficult circumstances," he said. "We can assure the Canadian government that public funding received by members of the humanitarian coalition that is channelled through the world food program will get to the people who need it."

The UN is ramping up its aid efforts for the drought-hit regions of East Africa after it declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia on Wednesday.

Famine is officially defined as when two adults or four children per 10,000 people die of hunger each day and a third of children are acutely malnourished. The U.N. earlier this week declared an official famine.

The World Food Program said it will soon begin providing food for 175,000 people in the Gedo region of southern Somalia.

WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella told reporters in Geneva that the UN food agency also aims to provide aid to 40,000 people in the Afgoye region and will start airlifts to the capital Mogadishu in the coming days.

The global body says tens of thousands of people have already starved to death in Somalia and thousands are streaming across the borders to Ethiopia and Kenya daily.