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International aid agencies are for the first time putting numbers to the face of affliction in East Africa's drought and famine. More than 29,000 Somali children under the age of 5 have died in the past 90 days, says the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The United Nations says 640,000 Somali children are acutely malnourished. It says that 3.2 million Somalis out of a total population of 7.5 million are approaching what aid bureaucrats call the "famine threshold" in Somalia and are in need of lifesaving assistance. The UN's Famine Early Warning Network has declared three new areas of the country to be in "Phase-5 Famine," using a grim calculation based on deaths per 10,000-population.

Meanwhile, the UN's World Food Program, the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger, says it has had to reduce rations because of a shortage of money, reaching fewer than half the planned beneficiaries – the most vulnerable populations in Somalia's central regions and the capital, Mogadishu.

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This is a crisis of unpreparedness. The current famine was predicted 12 months ago. It is a crisis of anarchy in the failed state of Somalia where what passes for a government, the Islamist militia Al-Shabab, is divided on whether to let aid into the country. It is a crisis of sloth; the world has dragged its feet in response.

Canadians have contributed $3-million to the coalition of aid agencies providing famine relief. The federal government has pledged to match their donations. As well, it has announced $50-million in relief.

It might consider something else: the sterling model of Brian Mulroney.

As televised images of starvation from the 1984 Ethiopian famine were broadcast to Canada and the world for the first time, Mr. Mulroney, in office as prime minister only a few weeks, called Canada's UN ambassador, Stephen Lewis, and directed him to galvanize action in the world community, which he did. Mr. Mulroney's foreign minister, Joe Clark, became the West's first senior official to visit Ethiopia. A former cabinet minister, David MacDonald, was dispatched to Ethiopia as relief co-ordinator. Mr. Mulroney increased development funding for Africa to a level never since achieved.

Oddly enough, he was modest about it all. But he made his country stand tall in the world.

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