East Africa famine: Minister says aid helps protect UK

A malnourished child carried by his mother in a Mogadishu hospital, Somalia
Image caption Millions have been affected by drought conditions in the Horn of Africa

Aid sent to east Africa over Christmas will protect UK security as well as save lives, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has said.

Britain is funding 9,000 tonnes of food and medical supplies for the Horn of Africa, where millions remain in danger as a result of drought and famine.

Mr Mitchell said the aid was "not only about saving lives".

He said it would also help prevent terrorism and disorder in Somalia which was a "direct threat" to the UK.

"There are probably more British passport holders engaged in terrorist training in Somalia than in any other country in the world", the minister said.

"This is not only about saving the lives of huge numbers of vulnerable babies and children, it is also about doing the right thing to promote British security."


He ruled out "putting boots on the ground" in Somalia but said the government was supporting the United Nations and African Union force, which is clearing terrorists out of the capital city of Mogadishu.

He said: "Our security is not only determined by guns and military preparations it is also determined by tackling the extraordinary dis-functionality and disorder which exists in Somalia but which affects a much wider area including Britain."

Mr Mitchell said the latest estimate is that up to 100,000 people may have died in the Horn of Africa between April and August.

He said the government's decision to send the aid, which is expected to feed some 800,000 people, was widely supported.

"Across Britain there is a very strong feeling that it is right to spend a very small amount of money, something like 1% of all the public expenditure that takes place in Britain, on helping people who are in a wretched and desperate condition," he said.

As well as food, the UK's aid will also fund vaccines and other medical supplies to treat more than 75,000 refugees.

Britain is also providing clean water for more than half a million people in the Horn of Africa as the area struggles to recover from the effects of its worst drought in 60 years.

'Fight for life'

Based on data collected by the UN, latest UK estimates show that of the 50,000 to 100,000 people who may have died due to drought-related causes, more than half were children aged under five.

The full extent of deaths caused by the drought may never be known, the Department for International Development said.

Mr Mitchell said there were some signs that the situation was improving, but that the situation remained desperate for people who remained malnourished and stuck in camps.

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Media captionAndrew Mitchell: Somalia is probably "one of the most dysfunctional countries in the world"

Famine status has been lifted in three of the six areas of Somalia but many families remain without sufficient food.

Mr Mitchell said: "Britain can be proud that we have got emergency aid to millions of people during the last six months.

"In many cases, this has been the difference between life and death.

"Millions across the region remain in danger and will face a fight for life in the New Year as they struggle to recover from the drought.

"But British aid is arriving as we speak so that families have enough to eat today and in the weeks ahead, providing hope that there can be a better future."

Mr Mitchell also praised the generosity of the British public, who have donated more than £72m to the Disasters Emergency Committee's East Africa appeal.


Mr Mitchell said Somalia in particular needed more assistance than aid.

He said the prime minister would be hosting a conference in London in February to examine what the international community can do to help the country.

"Somalia is a place from which emanate piracy, disorder, disease, drug running.

"The dangers from conflict and terrorism are very great from Somalia.

"And the aim of the prime minister's conference is to bring together very large numbers of different nations who want to help and assist in Somalia and see whether we can make some progress.

"Of course humanitarian aid is part of that and the conference will go wider than that".

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