CNN-April 9, 2000 , Web posted at: 9:43 AM EDT (1343 GMT)
DANAN, Ethiopia (Reuters) -- Fadumo Sultan walked for five days with her four children at her side to reach this small, remote town in southwest Ethiopia.
It was a desperate move for a family pushed to the brink by three years of drought. Once, they had owned 30 cows and 200 sheep and goats -- a healthy savings account in the harsh, dusty plains of the Ogaden region.
One by one their animals died as pastures ran out. Weakened by a lack of food, Fadumo's husband then fell ill and died last year.
With no money left to buy food, Fadumo was hoping to find help in Danan. But what little she found was not enough. Two of her children have followed their father to the grave in the last two weeks.
"They died of starvation," Fadumo says, as her two other infants, a tiny boy covered in dust and a young girl in a simple blue dress, shelter under her left arm.
Fadumo is living in the epicenter of a severe drought in Ethiopia. Conditions are not yet this bad in other parts of the country, but her family's experience is a dramatic warning of what can happen if food aid does not arrive in time to avert a potential famine.
Ethiopia has appealed for over 800,000 tons of food aid to feed eight million people faced with starvation around the country this year. Belatedly or not, the U.S. and Europe recently pledged their help.
Adults ok, but wheat not enough.
Ethiopia's government has been delivering wheat to the southwest since January, drawing partly on its own supplies, partly on food donated through the UN World Food Program.
While this has kept most of the adults in Danan alive and relatively healthy, the deliveries have not helped the youngest children.
"The impact of the wheat was significant -- for most people, their nutritional status is still OK," said Mahamud Ugas, regional manager for the Ogaden Welfare Service (OWS), a local aid agency.
"But children under five and the elderly cannot rely on dry wheat -- they need milk, oil and clean water. They are suffering a lot," he told Reuters.
Fadumo's experience is typical.
"The only food we were getting was wheat with water, without oil or sugar," she said, through a translator. "When the children ate it, they got dysentery, with blood. They were ill for a long time, and we couldn't get any milk or soft food for them."
Last week, OWS, with help from the American government's relief wing USAID, began delivering a high-protein porridge mix to around 9,000 of the most vulnerable people in Danan and the villages nearby.
The foreign aid came too late to save Faduma's eldest son, six-year old Mohammed, who died ten days ago, or her youngest daughter Irshi, just two years old, who passed away last Thursday.
"She was so weak she couldn't even eat the porridge," Fadumo said.
Local officials say an average of seven people, most of them children, die every day in Danan, a town whose population has nearly doubled to around 14,000 since the drought began to bite.
To one side of the town, tiny graves stretch for hundreds of yards -- a silent measure of human tragedy.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed