By United Nations

3 February - Wrapping up a visit to Somalia and Kenya, the United Nations humanitarian chief today called attention to the crises in the two countries, where recurring droughts have deprived millions of already vulnerable people of their livelihoods, leaving them in need of assistance.

“In the past three days, I have had an opportunity to see for myself the devastation and impact of conflict and climate-related disasters on people in Kenya and Somalia,” the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, said in Nairobi, at the end of her visit.

She pointed out that dramatic and more recent crises – such as the floods in Pakistan last year and the 2009 earthquake in Haiti – frequently overshadow chronic crises like those in east Africa.

“The world needs to continue to pay attention to what is happening in this part of the world,” Ms. Amos said. “We must always make sure that people understand the human impact of these crises. Behind every statistic, there is a human face.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, recurrent droughts and inadequate rainfall in Kenya and Somalia have eroded livelihoods, especially for pastoral communities which have become food insecure.

An estimated 1.6 million Kenyans, mostly inhabitants of the arid and semi-arid areas in the northern and eastern regions of the country, are experiencing drought-related hardship. In neighbouring Somalia, a combination of long-term insecurity and drought has driven up the number of people in need to 2.4 million, with the situation expected to worsen before the onset of the next rainy season in April.

Throughout her visit, Ms. Amos highlighted the need for preparedness and early action as key elements of any strategy focused on responding to humanitarian emergencies, such as worsening malnutrition and food insecurity, brought about by environmental degradation, drought and conflict.

“I have also had an opportunity to speak to colleagues and partners about the importance of working together to tackle the vulnerability and risk that exist in the region,” the humanitarian chief said. “Ultimately, our collective success depends on our ability to give assistance to people in need and help them to develop long-term sustainable solutions to the challenges they face.”

Noting that a majority of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kenya have been permanently settled in the last two years, Ms. Amos also encouraged the Kenyan government to prioritize the resettlement of the remaining IDPs as the country moves towards elections in 2012. While in Somalia, she met with various Somali leaders and visited one of the few IDP settlements where the displaced people own their land, the result of a local initiative for displaced people to sec ure their land rights.