MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Britain's foreign secretary made a surprise visit to Somalia on Wednesday for talks with the country's new president as a worsening drought threatens millions of people in the Horn of Africa nation.
"It is all so, such a shame that you are facing the problems that you are facing, particularly of course the drought and the risk of starvation, though I think that we are moving fast to try to tackle that this time 'round," Boris Johnson told President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.
Somalia recently declared the drought a national disaster amid warnings of a full-blown famine. The country faced a similar crisis in 2011 that killed nearly 260,000 people.
The current drought, which the United Nations says threatens about half of Somalia's population, or roughly 6 million people, is part of a four-nation humanitarian crisis that the U.N. has called the largest since the world body was formed in 1945.
Britain on Wednesday announced it would match "pound for pound" the first £5 million ($6.1 million) donated by the public to the Disasters Emergency Committee's new East Africa Crisis Appeal. The committee is a collection of 13 British aid agencies.
Johnson said Britain will host a conference on Somalia on May 11 to help address "underlying problems" like extremist attacks and corruption.
Mohamed blamed the drought in part on homegrown extremist group al-Shabab, which continues to control parts of the country. "This drought is really serious, and so far we have lost 60 percent of our livestock," he said.
Even as Johnson visited Somalia, the Somali-born Olympian Mo Farah backed the new aid appeal for the region.
"As a father of four, it hurts to see children without food and water, but this is a reality being faced by parents in East Africa right now," he said in a statement. "The drought is really bad and there are millions of children at risk of starvation. I was born in Somalia and it breaks my heart to hear stories of how families are suffering."
After his recent visit to Somalia, U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said 2.9 million people are at risk of famine and require immediate help "to save or sustain their lives." He has said close to 1 million children under the age of 5 will be acutely malnourished this year.
Current indicators mirror "the tragic picture of 2011 when Somalia last suffered a famine," O'Brien said. But this time the U.N.'s humanitarian partners have a larger footprint, better controls on resources and a stronger partnership with the new government, he said.
"To be clear, we can avert a famine," O'Brien has said. "But we need those huge funds now."
Nigel Tricks, Oxfam's Horn of Africa regional director, said Wednesday that "the window is short in which we can still avert a famine" in the regional crisis.
The drought also affects millions of people in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya, where the government recently declared a national disaster for about half of its counties. Famine has been declared in two counties of civil war-torn South Sudan.
Associated Press videographer Andrew Njuguna in Nairobi, Kenya, and writer Danica Kirka in London contributed.