DUBAI // A four-member UAE aid team leaves today for Mogadishu on a mission to assess the immediate needs of Somalis facing starvation in the worst drought in six decades.
The team has gone into action just days after the President, Sheikh Khalifa, issued directives to provide emergency relief.
In the first phase of their mission, the Red Crescent Authority specialist delegation will travel to the Horn of Africa to determine the most efficient way to get food to those who need it most. They will also determine the number of people to whom the RCA can provide food, water and health facilities, and the funds it will require to do so.
Ahmed Al Mazrouei, the chairman of the RCA, said: "We are already on the move. The team is going to make an assessment, determine how many people to cover, what are the major food supplies they need. The report they send will be used to set a budget that will make us effective."
The agency's priority is to establish the closest and cheapest market from which to buy food.
"We will see if we can buy food supplies like rice and wheat from the nearest market, which could be Nairobi, so the cost of shipping is not very high," Mr Al Mazrouei said.
Shipping food from the UAE would be expensive, he said, and there is no certainty the ship would reach the pirate-infested region safely. "We have to also find ways to provide continuous supply of water," he said.
The second phase, which would involve providing emergency aid, would begin once the delegation and the UAE Red Crescent branches in Somalia evaluate the needs of the people.
"In a couple of days, we will have feedback on how to go forward," he said. "We will come up with a plan on how to start providing relief based on needs and facts."
As the RCA team prepared to fly out, a United Nations economist told an emergency meeting in Rome that Europe and the US were "on the verge of default" and had no money to relieve the famine.
Jeffrey Sachs, a senior adviser to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said: "If we're serious about mobilising adequate resources in a short time, I hope we look to the Gulf states." The Gulf is "the only place where the money is today. This is a room full of governments without money," Mr Sachs told the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The UN said there will be a donors pledging conference tomorrow in Nairobi to raise as much as Dh5.9 billion to fight famine in Somalia and other drought-stricken populations in East Africa.
Mr Al Mazrouei said it was important for international and national aid agencies to co-ordinate relief efforts to avoid duplication.
"We are keen to play a major role in being one of the main authorities working effectively. We are the first national Red Crescent society to respond to the crisis," he said.
Mobile hospitals staffed with volunteer UAE doctors will also travel to Somalia to treat the sick. Many women and children are severely malnourished and dehydrated.
UN officials said as many as 60 children were dying each day, as women and families tried to escape the drought by fleeing to neighbouring countries. The aid agency, which has branches in Mogadishu and Hargeisa, has been working in Somalia since 1993, and has since spent over Dh120 million in assisting people with food and water.
Officials said it could be months before the situation was brought under control. More delegations are expected to travel from the UAE in the coming weeks. At the UN meeting in Rome, charities voiced disappointment at the international response so far.
Barbara Stocking, head of Oxfam International, said: "It is shameful that only a few of the richest and most powerful economies were willing to demonstrate today their commitment to saving the lives of many of the poorest and most vulnerable."
ONE, the charity run by the U2 frontman and anti-poverty campaigner Bono, said: "The political will manifested in Rome should be followed by action."
The World Bank promised to provide more than $500 million. The money would be spent on projects in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia, including the worst-stricken areas in that country "where circumstances permit," the bank said. Al Shabab militants have limited the ability of aid groups to reach victims in southern Somalia.
The decades-old conflict in Somalia has long complicated efforts to get aid to its people. Al Shabab denies there is famine and is preventing some western aid groups from helping those in need. The UN World Food Programme has said it cannot reach 2.2 million Somalis at risk of starvation.
The World Bank president, Robert B Zoellick, said: "Immediate relief and recovery is the first priority, and it is important to act fast to reduce human suffering. But we also have an eye on the long-term solutions of economic recovery and drought resilience that are key to re-establishing livelihoods and ensuring that droughts don't take such a heavy human toll in the future." He said the world needs to invest in "climate-smart" agriculture, including drought-resistant seeds.
An estimated 3.7 million people in Somalia - about a third of the population - are on the brink of starvation and millions more in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have been stricken by the drought.
Officials said at yesterday's meeting that the UN has received about $1 billion since first launching an appeal for the region in November but needs $1 billion more by the end of the year.
The bulk of the $500 million pledged by the World Bank is forlong-term projects to aid livestock farmers while $12 million would be for immediate assistance.
UN officials say the drought has killed tens of thousands of people in recent months, forcing hundreds of thousands of people from the worst-affected areas of Somalia to walk for weeks in search of food and water.
* With agencies