By Shaun Tandon
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday pledged another $100 million in food aid to drought-hit East Africa amid warnings that millions of people face starvation, mostly in lawless Somalia.
Despite tight foreign aid budgets, Clinton said that food security was a critical priority for President Barack Obama's administration whose "Feed the Future" initiative aims to address long-term reasons for global hunger.
Clinton said that the administration would also boost immediate food assistance by adding to the $647 million it has already committed to address the crisis on the Horn of Africa.
"I am pleased to announce that we are providing an additional $100 million, primarily in food assistance for drought-affected areas in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia," Clinton said.
"This new funding will help us reach more people and support our humanitarian commitment well into 2012," Clinton told a forum held at the State Department on food assistance.
Clinton did not go into detail about the funding. The previous $647 million was distributed to aid groups and agencies including the UN World Food Program.
"It is the right thing to do," she said. "If you come from a country as blessed as ours, with the food we take for granted, it is an obligation to try to help those who are in need."
The United Nations estimates that more than 13 million people are in need of food assistance in East Africa. The region is suffering from its worst drought in years, which some experts link to climate change.
The worst-hit nation by far is Somalia, where tens of thousands of people are believed to have already died. The country has effectively lacked a central government for two decades, with the Islamist Shebab guerrillas controlling much of the country.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned that 750,000 people in Somalia are at risk of dying in the coming months if aid efforts are not stepped up.
US Vice President Joe Biden said that the Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab guerrillas, who control large stretches of Somalia, were to blame for the severe food problems.
"Al-Shebab terrorists did not create the food crisis but they have made it far worse. Drought conditions exist throughout East Africa but so far famine is concentrated only in the Al-Shebab-controlled areas," Biden told the same forum.
"The most cynical action of all, they endanger their own people by commandeering assistance sent by the rest of the world to the starving children and women of that country," he said.
Shebab has banned Western influence in its regions and has been accused of threatening and kidnapping aid workers, including two Spanish women snatched working with refugees in Kenya.
Kenya has launched an unprecedented week-old military push into Somalia against the Shebab, which threatened retaliation. One person was killed and 29 were wounded in two grenade attacks on Monday in Kenya's capital Nairobi.
Clinton presented awards to Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Howard Buffett, the father of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, for their philanthropy aimed at alleviating hunger.
Gates said that initiatives funded by the two men have made initial success in helping farmers in Africa, including potentially bountiful countries such as Nigeria, develop better ways to store and sell their produce.
"When you look at food aid, you want to be as responsive as possible. And having all of it come from thousands of miles away shouldn't be your only source for that food," Gates said.
President Barack Obama pledged at a 2009 summit of the Group of Eight in Italy to provide $3.5 billion over three years to develop agriculture in poor countries to help them reach food security and improve nutrition.
However, the US Congress has been pressing for a trimming of foreign aid due to a weak economy at home.