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Ellison Hosts Panel on Africa Famine

USAID head announces $23 million in new aid for Horn of Africa relief.

A Minneapolis forum on famine in Africa that U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) hosted Wednesday included an announcement of $23 million in new foreign aid to meet the humanitarian crisis. 

Dr. Raj Shah, administrator of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said more than $10 million of the grants and other support would go to people in hard-to-reach, drought-stricken parts of Somalia.

The United States has sent more than $600 million in humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa this year, according a statement from Ellison's office.

The announcement provided one answer to the question Ellison posed to the forum: "What we can do as a community …. to improve the lives of people who are suffering in the Horn of Africa?"

Heavy Hitters
The event at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs brought star power to bear on a humanitarian crisis that Shah said has meant malnutrition for 12.4 million people and death for more than 30,000 Somali children.

Besides Shah, the forum's panelists included U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Tim Walz (DFL-MN). Pelosi said the forum followed on well-attended meetings of members of Congress on African famine that came days after Congress adjourned Aug. 3.

(Pelosi is in Minnesota for the national American Legion convention taking place downtown, she said. She, Ellison, Walz and President Obama are among the elected officials who have addressed that gathering.)

"All of us had been tormented, our consciences challenged by the pictures of [malnourished] children in the paper," Pelosi told the full house at the Humphrey Institute.

Famine Relief Works
Shah said famine-relief has improved greatly since the 1960s when hundreds of thousands of deaths were "taken for granted" when famine struck poor countries.

"These programs work," Shah said. "We know how to target nutrition efforts."

Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee (ARC) and other Minnesota-based Somali groups are among those that will handle the new USAID funds, Shah said.

ARC President Daniel Wordsworth disputed the "widespread feeling that these … problems are insurmountable."

Hashi Shafi, who directs the Somali Action Alliance, called the current situation in the Horn of Africa "a great crisis [but] also a great opportunity to pull together to help those suffering."

Long Neglect
Ellison blamed an American and worldwide "case of neglect" of Somalia, where persistent weak government and the al-Shabab insurgency have complicated famine relief. 

Ellison put the chaos of far-off Somalia into the context of American politics.

"Some of those folks [in America] who don't like government should take a look at [Somalia]," Ellison said to loud applause.

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