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U.S. expands food, health aid to Ethiopia, Kenya amid crisis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration gave $169 million to feed people facing starvation in Ethiopia and Kenya, USAID said on Thursday, adding to earlier assistance for those suffering from drought and conflict in four other nations.

USAID, the U.S. government’s humanitarian relief agency, said in a statement that it had provided $137 million in aid for Ethiopia and nearly $33 million for Kenya.

The latest funding comes after Trump pledged $639 million last month in urgent food assistance for Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen.

Increased aid comes as numerous countries in the region face crisis-level food shortages due to armed conflict, prolonged drought and economic upheaval that have also resulted in a lack of medical care, sanitation, shelter and safety.

Meteorologists have blamed a series of severe back-to-back droughts in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region on fluctuations in ocean temperatures known as the Indian Ocean Dipole. While rain is expected early next year in Somalia it is unlikely to offer immediate relief.

“With this new funding, the United States is scaling up emergency food assistance, while providing specialized nutrition supplies to treat malnourished children, and also furnishing safe drinking water and essential health services,” USAID’s statement said.

The funds for Kenya would help support refugees fleeing neighboring conflicts as well as Kenyans suffering from drought, the agency said. Rising food prices in Kenya have also been an ongoing concern.

The assistance for Ethiopia, which has also been struck by a severe drought, included enough food to feed 3 million people, USAID added.

While the hardest-hit area in Somali region of eastern Ethiopia is not plagued by conflict, it is remote with poor infrastructure and hard to reach.

“It is not a famine but it is rising up to the levels of getting close to famine,” said Matt Nims, acting director of Food for Peace at USAID. “That is why we want to act now so that we’re not into that stage.”

According to the United Nations, 795 million people worldwide are undernourished, mostly in developing countries. It has already warned of mass starvation in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.

Last month, The United Nations said that while many people in South Sudan are still going hungry, the worst of the famine had eased.

In Yemen, a two-year war has increased concerns about mass starvation and disease.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bernard Orr