By Ibon Villelabeitia
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – ISTANBUL, Aug 17 (Reuters) â€“ The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries have pledged $350 million in aid to fight famine in Somalia at an emergency summit in Istanbul, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said Wednesday.
With some 3.7 million Somalis at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa country, Ihsanoglu said he hoped the aid would soon reach $500 million and urged donors to improve drought-stricken Somaliaâ€™s long-term food security by helping it rebuild infrastructure and agriculture.
â€œAll in all we have secured $350 million in pledges. We hope to raise the commitments to $500 million in a very short time,â€ he told a news conference after the summit, held in Turkeyâ€™s commercial capital during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan appealed for aid for Somalia, criticizing millionaires who drive luxury cars and the â€œWestern worldâ€™sâ€ arrogance for ignoring the plight of the poor.
In a speech sprinkled with references to Islamic piety and criticism of Western capitalism, Erdogan said the Somali famine was â€œa litmus testâ€ not only for Muslims but for all humanity.
â€œIf you ride a luxury car you should be generous enough to people who are struggling with hunger,â€ he told foreign ministers from the 57-nation OIC at an emergency summit in Istanbul to galvanize support for Somalia and neighboring regions also hit by drought.
â€œI hope the efforts (of the OIC) will mobilize the sleeping consciences. We hope the Western world, which likes to boast about its per capita income, shows its support for Somalia.â€
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week her country would give an extra $17 million to combat famine in the Horn of Africa, including $12 million to help Somalis — bringing total U.S. humanitarian aid to the region to more than $580 million this year.
The OIC recently changed its name from Organization of the Islamic Conference to Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said his country was unable to raise enough food and cattle, and faced militant attacks. The worst-hit areas are controlled by al Shabaab militants, who have prevented aid from getting to people.
The rebels, who have waged a four-year insurgency against Somaliaâ€™s Western-backed government, withdrew from Mogadishu earlier this month, opening the way for life-saving food aid but also raising the risk of insurgency attacks.
TURKEY IN AFRICA
Muslim Turkey, a rapidly growing economy and multi-party democracy that has applied to join the European Union, is widely regarded as a model for Muslim and other developing countries.
The OIC summit offered Turkey a chance to showcase its commitment to Africa when other emerging powers are scrambling for trade and investments in the resource-rich continent.
Erdogan, a pious Muslim who fasts during Ramadan, used his 30-minute speech to burnish his image as a hero among many Muslims, a status he has gained for his criticism of Israel and his support for Palestinian statehood.
â€œWhat can we say to people on the other side, making trillions of dollars, capitalizing on others? What kind of civilization is this?â€ he said, raising his voice at times.
â€œWe come from the community of the Prophet, who says you cannot sleep peacefully if your neighbor is hungry. The Somali people are looking at us. Can we turn our gaze away?â€
Erdogan will travel to Somalia Thursday with his family. He plans to visit relief camps and will be joined by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his family.
Visits by foreign dignitaries are extremely rare in Somalia, plagued by war and anarchy for the last two decades.
Turkey lags other emerging powerhouses such as China, Brazil and India in the race for new markets in Africa, but under Erdoganâ€™s AK Party government, Turkey has boosted trade with the continent and opened several new embassies there.
Davutoglu later heads to South Africa and Ethiopia as part of an African tour aimed at raising Turkeyâ€™s diplomatic presence in the continent and expanding business ties.
Erdogan said Turkey would open six field hospitals in Somalia and send 20 tonnes of medication and 10 tonnes of food.
(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Alistair Lyon)