Ethiopia seeks aid to feed 6.2 million
Food shortage stems from drought afflicting Horn of Africa

By Elizabeth A. Kennedy
Friday, October 23, 2009

NAIROBI -- Ethiopia said Thursday that it needs emergency food aid for 6.2 million people, an appeal that comes 25 years after a devastating famine compounded by communist policies killed 1 million and prompted one of the largest charity campaigns ever.

The crisis stems from a prolonged drought that has hit much of the Horn of Africa, including Kenya and Somalia.

Drought is especially disastrous in Ethiopia because more than 80 percent of its people live off the land. Agriculture accounts for half of its domestic production and most exports.

Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia's state minister for agriculture and rural development, appealed to donors Thursday for more than $121 million. In January, he had said that 4.9 million of Ethiopia's 85 million people needed food aid.

Ethiopia has long struggled with cyclical droughts, which are compounded by the country's dependence on rain-fed agriculture and archaic farming practices.

In 1984, Ethiopia's famine drew international attention as news reports showed emaciated children and adults with limbs as thin as sticks. The crisis launched one of the biggest global charity campaigns in history, including the Live Aid concert.

This year's drought appears to be slightly less severe than the one last year, which was exacerbated by high food prices. A year ago, Mitiku appealed for aid to feed 6.4 million people affected by drought. Many humanitarian groups have said in recent years that they believe the number of people affected by hunger is higher than government estimates.

Because of Ethiopia's large size and poor infrastructure, independent observers have difficulty collecting data. The worst-affected areas in the country's east are the site of a fierce insurgency and are off-limits to journalists. Aid groups say their movements in these areas are limited by military restrictions.

Nick Martlew, an official with the aid group Oxfam in Ethiopia, said that the country's east should be green and healthy now but that crops are wilting in the sun and will not produce a sufficient amount of food.

"Really, until June next year there is going to be insufficient food around," he said. "Where we are in eastern Ethiopia you can look out and it's completely barren as far as the eye can see." Drought and water shortages are also increasing in Ethiopia's south because of a changing climate, Martlew said. Oxfam is helping villages collect rainwater for long-term use.

-- Associated Press

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