IN THE NEWS #425 - Famine in Ethiopia

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Sixteen-million people are facing starvation in countries across eastern and central Africa. More than half of those at risk are in Ethiopia. A lack of rain is causing severe food shortages in the southeastern part of Ethiopia. And conditions there are getting worse. Aid officials fear that the crisis will spread to other parts of the country unless more aid arrives soon.

It has not rained in Ethiopia for almost three years. No crops can be planted because the ground is too dry. The drought has killed many farm animals. Camels have stopped producing milk needed for children. As many as four-hundred people died from hunger and related causes last month in the southeastern town of Gode. Most of the victims were young children.

Gode is the only town in the area that is receiving food aid. People are traveling long distances to get there. Some of them have died on the way. Several planeloads of food have arrived in the Gode area in the past few weeks. The American Agency for International Development and other aid groups have sent food to the area. The United Nations says nine-hundred-thousand tons of food are needed.

The Ethiopian government and the United States are leading aid efforts in the country. The United States has promised more than one-hundred-fifty-million dollars in food aid. But that is only about half the estimated need. There were early warnings about the threat of starvation in Ethiopia. The UN appealed for aid almost a year ago. But many countries that promised to give food to Ethiopia failed to do so because of its involvement in a border war with Eritrea. Some European officials feared Ethiopia would use the aid to support the war effort.

The war also threatens to block current aid efforts. Ethiopia has refused Eritrea's offer to use the Eritrean port of Assab for aid shipments. Ethiopia says it will use ports in Djibouti and Somalia instead. But officials say roads in those areas are bad and would slow delivery efforts. UN officials say using Eritrea's port would help speed the delivery of food.

Some countries have criticized Ethiopia for not doing enough to help its people. They say the Ethiopian government is spending too much money on the war. Experts say Ethiopia has been spending almost one-million dollars a day on the war.

Ethiopia has criticized countries and aid groups for not reacting to the crisis fast enough.

Fifteen years ago, a severe drought killed about one-million people in Ethiopia. However, aid agencies in Ethiopia said that the current situation is not yet a repeat of that crisis. They say a widespread crisis still can be avoided with quick action.

The food emergency is not limited to Ethiopia. More than one-million people are at risk of starvation in Somalia. And millions more may be affected in eight other African countries.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English