Aid officials: not the time to cut U.S. food aid

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Aid officials warned yesterday that the famine in the Horn of Africa would escalate  significantly if October rains fail to materialize, and  cautioned U.S. lawmakers this was not the time to cut funding.

Some 12 million people across the drought-hit Horn of  Africa region have been affected by the famine that has  enveloped parts of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

The concerns about the spreading food crisis come as the  House Appropriations Committee proposes further funding cuts  for USAID in fiscal year 2012 by $488 million from last year’s  level and $705 million less than the Obama administration  requested.

A so-called U.S. congressional super committee has been  tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in additional budget savings  over 10 years to reduce the bulging U.S. deficit, and there are  worries foreign aid may be a casualty of some of the cuts.

“So far we have not been affected by our difficulties in  terms of budget stringency,” Donald Steinberg, deputy  administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development  (USAID), told reporters.

“If we do see the kinds of cuts in food assistance that are  identified in the emerging legislation in Congress, it will  have a significant impact,” he added.

So far, the United States has provided about $570 million  to fight the famine in the Horn of Africa.

Sam Worthington, head of InterAction, the largest alliance  of U.S.-based aid and development agencies, said some lawmakers  were so focused on budget cuts they ignored the long-term  security and economic benefits to the United States of  providing foreign aid.

“There is a disconnect between the conversation in Congress  on the role of foreign assistance and what is happening in the  Horn of Africa,” he said, adding, “There is no way America can  thrive if we pull back to our borders.”

The World Food Programme has said the aid group cannot reach  more than 2 million Somalis in the worst-hit areas because the  Islamist al Shabaab fighters have blocked access to most  agencies.

Valerie Amos, U.N. under-secretary-general and emergency  relief coordinator, said the number of Somalis fleeing into  Ethiopia had declined since al Shabaab fighters withdrew from  the capital Mogadishu at the weekend, opening the way for more  aid to be delivered to famine victims in the city.

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