© Reuters- By Godfrey Mutizwa
NAIROBI, April 5 (Reuters) - The United Nations urged the world's richest nations on Wednesday to give more to help avert famine in northeastern Africa where more than 16 million people face food shortages this year.
World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Lindsay Davies said only the U.S. and the European Union had responded positively to its January appeal for help for the Horn of Africa.
The U.S. last month announced a 400,000 tonne donation of aid to Ethiopia while the EU on Tuesday said it was working with other donors to send some 800,000 tonnes of food to the region.
The EU pledge followed Ethiopian criticism that the response to its December appeal for aid had been too slow. Rich countries were waiting to see "skeletons on screens", Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said in Cairo.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday lives could still be saved if the world acted now. He announced he was sending WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini to the region from April 11-19 to plan famine relief measures.
"I think we may be a bit late but it is not too late to save lives if we respond at this point," Annan told reporters in Rome.
"I urge those with the capacity to give, to give and to give generously so that we can save lives," he added.
The WFP's Davies said: "We are hoping that with the U.N. special envoy's visit, there will be increased awareness within the international community of the plight of the Horn of Africa and that contributions will start to come in more quickly."
Bertini is expected to visit Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Kenya, Davies said, urging international "donors to respond quickly and generously".
The EU says the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has hampered the relief effort, preventing aid agencies using the Eritrean port of Massawa to supply northern Ethiopia. But Ethiopia says access is "absolutely not a problem".
Bertini's first port of call will be Ethiopia, the worst hit country in the region and one which lost more than one million people in the last major drought in the area in 1984/85.
A WFP spokeswoman in Ethiopia said the situation was very serious, particularly in the east.
"We are seeing people, especially children in an extremely vulnerable state and there are reported deaths in some areas due to lack of water and the poor quality of water that is available," she said.
Water and health care were the main needs in the southeast Somali region of Ethiopia where more than 90 percent of the livestock was dead and the "landscape is littered with carcasses."
People were migrating further north in search of food and swamping facilities in the towns, she said.
"It is a very serious situation right now and we are in continued need of food aid pledges and we are working hard to avert a famine like the situation that we saw in 1984," she said.
Davies told Reuters the U.N.'s appeal for Kenya had received strong support with some $36.5 million in pledges from the U.S., Japan, the EU, Britain and Australia.
But in London, Bob Geldof, the inspiration behind the 1985 Live Aid famine appeal for Ethiopia, said he doubted the European Union could act fast enough.
While praising the United States for acting swiftly to help avert a new famine, Geldof accused the EU of being as complacent as it was in the mid-1980s, when an estimated one million people died of starvation in the region.
"They (the EU) are not in a position to organise, they don't move quickly, they tend to consult endlessly," he told BBC radio.
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