MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrived for a surprise visit to Somalia on Wednesday and held talks with the country's new president as aid agencies made a new appeal for help in a worsening drought.
Johnson met with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who was elected last month. The British foreign office did not immediately comment on the visit.
Somalia's drought was recently declared a national disaster amid warnings of a full-blown famine.
The drought, which the United Nations says threatens about half 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 that 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.
After his recent visit to Somalia, U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said 2.9 million people there 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," the humanitarian chief 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. And famine has been declared in two counties of civil war-torn South Sudan.