By Rebekah Curtis
LONDON, Sept 16 (AlertNet) - The world reacted too slowly to the Horn of Africa hunger crisis leaving aid agencies racing to catch up with the region's needs, the head of a coalition of Britain's leading charities said.
Brendan Gormley, chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), said the international community must increase longer term aid to help the region ward off future food crises.
Severe drought has affected over 13 million people in East Africa where an estimated 750,000 Somalis face imminent starvation.
"A rapid donor response to the early warnings about the gathering crisis is the one thing that would have made the biggest difference to the effectiveness of the aid effort," Gormley told AlertNet.
"Aid agencies are now running to catch up with the needs, international funding is still inadequate and the current break in the food pipeline is irreversible."
Regional governments must take a lead in ensuring longer term aid gets delivered and it benefits even the remotest semi-arid regions, said Gormley, whose organization coordinates the responses of 14 charities including Oxfam and Save the Children.
There should also be greater emphasis on resolving the conflict in Somalia, he said.
In Somalia, fighting between government forces and gunmen loyal to hardline Islamist group al Shabaab has exacerbated food insecurity, experts say.
Some 4 million people in Somalia need aid and U.N. officials say food scarcity looks set to worsen in the south. But al Shabaab militants who control the south have blocked the World Food Programme from delivering aid.
In August, an estimated 1,500 Somali refugees crossed into Kenya every day, joining more than 400,000 people who now live in the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab.
Gormley said longer term measures such as investment and better information on weather and livestock markets were needed to help pastoralists, who move their herds around the region and were hit hard by the hunger crisis.
Other effective drought-resilience measures would include improving livestock healthcare, planting trees to control soil erosion and building water pumps and wells, he added.
The DEC had commissioned an independent evaluation of its members' work to improve their response to the hunger crisis, said Gormley.
"In one sense the solutions are known, it is the lack of political will and sustained investment that is lacking," he added.
"Food crises keep happening in East Africa because the world lets them keep happening."
(Writing by Rebekah Curtis; Editing by Sophie Hares and Emma Batha)
(This story corrects the attribution in paragraphs 7/8; Gormley did not say that fighting between government forces and al Shabaab had exacerbated food insecurity in Somalia)