GENEVA, NOV. 18 -- A United Nations agency appealed today for $22 million worth of vital medicines, food supplies and other aid to save the lives of 5.2 million people facing famine in northern Ethiopia.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said the sum represented $9 million in food aid, $8 million needed for antibiotics and vaccines and $5 million for water supplies and distribution.

In a separate announcement, the U.N. Disaster Relief Organization said it was sending an aircraft to Ethiopia next week to distribute food, and that two more aircraft would follow. The organization said it had received $2.2 million for airlift operations after making an appeal last week.

Gullmar Andersson, UNICEF's senior program officer for emergencies, told reporters in Geneva, "Time is extremely short. Funds are urgently needed."

An estimated 5.2 million Ethiopians face starvation due to the severe drought in the northern provinces of Tigray, Eritrea and Wollo. About half are children, a UNICEF spokeswoman said.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross last week called for guaranteed safe passage for food aid convoys in troubled northern Ethiopia.

Rebels attacked a U.N. food convoy last month, setting fire to 23 trucks carrying 350 tons of grain.