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Jill Biden visits refugee camp, requests help for starving Somalis

- Associated Press - Monday, August 8, 2011

DADAAB, Kenya — Vice President Joseph R. Biden's wife visited an overcrowded refugee camp Monday to underscore U.S. concern for the famine in East Africa, as a U.S. official warned that hundreds of thousands of Somali children could die of hunger.

Jill Biden is the highest-profile U.S. visitor to East Africa since the number of refugees coming across the Somali border dramatically increased in July. Mrs. Biden, who traveled to the camp in a C-130 military transport plane, said she wants to raise awareness and persuade donors to give more.

"One of the reasons to be here is just to ask Americans and people worldwide, the global community, the human family, if they could just reach a little deeper into their pockets and give money to help these poor people, these poor mothers and children," said Mrs. Biden, who met with two Somali mothers and their eight children.

"There is hope if people start to pay attention to this," said Mrs. Biden, who also met with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

A drought has turned into famine because little aid can reach terrorist-controlled south-central Somalia, forcing tens of thousands of Somalis who have exhausted all the region's food to walk to camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

Washington is preparing to announce roughly $100 million in new famine aid, two U.S. officials said.

Raj Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, accompanied Mrs. Biden and warned that hundreds of thousands of children could die from the famine.

Mr. Shah said the world has a unique opportunity to save children's lives by expanding humanitarian activities inside Somalia, though he noted that it would be a challenge for aid providers to get into south-central Somalia, which is controlled by al Shabab terrorists.

More than 29,000 children younger than 5 have died in the past 90 days in southern Somalia alone, according to U.S. estimates. The United Nations says 640,000 Somali children are acutely malnourished, suggesting the death toll of small children will rise.

More than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are in need of immediate food aid, including nearly half of Somalia's population.

Aid is only reaching about 20 percent of the 2.6 million Somalis who need it, said Mark Bowden, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official for Somalia on a visit to Mogadishu on Monday.

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