07/06/2011 12:42 EDT | Updated 09/05/2011 05:12 EDT

East Africa Drought Threatens 10 Million, Say Aid Groups


OTTAWA - A coalition of aid groups is urging Canadians and the government to help stop an escalating humanitarian crisis that threatens the lives of 10 million East Africans.

Five of Canada's largest relief agencies, operating under the banner of the Humanitarian Coalition, are making the appeal in the face of what the UN is calling East Africa's worst drought in over 60 years.

The coalition says a devastating lack of rain has reduced livestock, incomes and food supplies, causing food prices to skyrocket and exacerbating an already-precarious situation.

CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Quebec, Plan Canada and Save the Children Canada are uniting to raise funds for safe drinking water, food, health-and-nutrition services, shelter materials and family support.

Patricia Erb, head of Save the Children Canada, says the situation in East Africa is "dire."

She says aid groups and their supporters must act now to prevent the loss of thousands of lives to malnutrition and dehydration.

"Infants and children are especially vulnerable," Erb said in a statement. "Their survival depends on all of us — aid agencies, governments and the public — working together."

Emergency relief operations are ramping up to meet the region's increasing needs, including those of thousands of refugees. More than 1,000 are arriving in Kenyan refugee camps daily, said CARE Canada's Kevin McCort.

"Organizations are scaling up programs in Kenya, and throughout the affected region, but resources are strained," McCort said.

"Support is urgently needed to ensure people continue to receive the life-saving support they need."

The Humanitarian Coalition has a combined presence in more than 120 countries.