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'Help Africa' campaign for UK

SEVEN of Britain's leading foreign aid charities will next week launch a joint appeal for famine relief funds for Africa. The public, moved by horrific television images of starvation, is expected to respond with millions of pounds.

The total raised by the Save the Children Fund's own recent appeal is about to pass pounds 500,000. It is one of a handful of charities which has carried on working in southern Somalia throughout the past year, during which order broke down completely, and has run press advertisments asking for donations.

'We don't believe that compassion fatigue affects the public; perhaps it only affects governments,' said a Save the Children spokesman, Don Redding. 'People are willing to give when shown the need and they have not been put off by stories of looting.

'Experienced workers are saying that what is happening in Somalia is more severe than anything they have seen, in terms of the long-term damage it will do to that country and its society.'

The Africa in Crisis appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee will be launched on Thursday week on BBC 1, ITV and BBC Radio 4. It will say that 21 million people, equivalent to about a third of Britain's population, are endangered by famine in the Horn of Africa, and a further 19 million affected by drought in Southern Africa require food aid this year.

Dee O'Connell, the committee's co-ordinator, said the money raised would be spent on restoring agriculture and water supplies and improving health care as well as on bringing food to the starving. Somalia, Mozambique and Ethiopia have to rebuild almost completely after years of war. Zambia and Zimbabwe will continue to face punishing levels of debt repayment once they have emerged from the drought.

The committee's members are the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, Save the Children Fund, Oxfam, Cafod (the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development), ActionAid and Help the Aged. They come together to launch appeals for the worst disasters. Out of 16 in the past 10 years, nine have involved Africa or single African nations. The last Africa in Crisis appeal was started in June last year and raised pounds 2.6m.

The aid agencies have been warning about the risks of famine across wide areas of the continent for months - and since last year in the case of Somalia. With the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, the aftershocks of the Gulf war and widespread strife in the former Soviet Union, they have had trouble getting a hearing from governments or the media.

It has also been extremely difficult and dangerous to take effective aid to southern Somalia. Like several others, Oxfam had pulled out but is now returning; the charity has been able to work more effectively and continuously in the northern half of the country which has declared independence.