Ethiopia crisis unlikely to match '84 famine -U.S.

14 Nov 2002 00:00
Ethiopia crisis unlikely to match '84 famine -U.S.
By David Brough

See satellite image of vegetation in Ethiopia

ROME, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday that Ethiopia's food supply was on a knife edge, although the country was unlikely to be facing a crisis on the scale of the horrific 1984 famine.

"My reading is that the food situation in Ethiopia is very precarious," Tony Hall, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations food agencies, told Reuters.

"I doubt very much it will be as bad as in 1984," added Hall, who personally witnessed the famine that killed nearly one million Ethiopians.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi evoked chilling memories of the 1984 famine on Monday, telling the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) the country could face an even worse disaster if it did not receive more aid.

"In 1984, under the Mengistu regime, the world did not know what was going on in Ethiopia for a long time," Hall said, referring to the communist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. "When the world responded, it was too late."

The Rome-based ambassador said the world was much better informed today about food shortages and donors still had time to intervene.

Aid groups say more than 10 million people are already affected by drought in the Horn of Africa and this could rise to 14 million. Vulnerable people like children and the elderly are dying from food shortages.

Hall said he thought the food situation could be worse in southern Africa, where aid workers also say 14 million are at risk.

He said the resistance by some governments in the region to hand out genetically modified food aid to desperately hungry people had contributed to the crisis.

The United States, the world's biggest donor, is already pouring food aid into Ethiopia and Eritrea and wants other donors to come forward, Hall said.

The United States said on Wednesday it will give Ethiopia and Eritrea $106 million in emergency food aid, including wheat, beans and vegetable oil, to help feed millions of people.

Hall said the United States had provided around 373,000 tonnes of food aid to Ethiopia and Eritrea this year, enough to feed seven million people until the end of January 2003.

Ethiopia suffers from cyclical droughts, which aid agencies say have been increasing in frequency. With fewer years to recover, the country becomes more vulnerable as it faces each successive drought.

This year's crisis is blamed on the failure of the short February-May Belg rainy season, and the late start and early finish of the main Meher rainsm which typically last from June to September.

Alert News is provided by Reuters


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