In response to an urgent request from the government of Ethiopia, the United States has agreed to send 115,000 tons of emergency food aid to stave off a famine that threatens to be as severe as the one that devastated the nation just two years ago.

The shipment, at a cost of $37.6 million, will supply one-eighth of the amount that Ethiopian and U.S. officials agree will be necessary next year to feed those threatened by the consequences of widespread drought.

The Ethiopian request was made early this month after summer rains were sparse throughout much of northern and central Ethiopia, leaving fields of grain dead or dying. Crop failures ranged from 75 percent to 100 percent in the hardest hit provinces of Eritrea and Tigray.

Although famine is not now imminent, relief officials have warned that by early next year, when the newly harvested crops will fall far short of replenishing dwindling government stockpiles, millions of Ethiopians might again be driven from their homes in search of food.

Prompt U.S. action is necessary "to help assure the prevention of famine, mass movements of displaced people and costly airlifts of emergency rations," said Jay F. Morris, acting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which agreed Friday to the Ethiopian request for food relief.

Reuter reported from Nairobi, Kenya:

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization yesterday called for massive donations of food aid for Ethiopia.

The statement quoted FAO's latest report on Ethiopia as saying the country may need more emergency food aid in 1988 than the 950,000 tons of grain estimated by the government.

In the statement, FAO Director General Edouard Saouma also called on donors to help expand Ethiopia's transport system so that the relief supplies can be distributed effectively.

Western relief agencies operating in Ethiopia have estimated that 5 million to 7 million people will need emergency food aid as a result of the latest drought.