ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, NOV. 21 -- Ethiopia appealed today for more than 800,000 tons of emergency food for some of the 4.3 million Ethiopians it says could starve next year because of continuing drought.
Ethiopia's appeal for aid comes as neighboring Sudan, also hit by drought, faces a famine that Western relief officials say threatens an estimated 11 million Sudanese. The number of threatened people in the two countries, by these counts, is roughly equal to the combined populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
In Sudan, where drought has made some land barren for the first time this century, the government has declined to appeal for aid and does not concede the threat of a famine, calling the problem a temporary "food shortfall."
But Ethiopia, which has lost most of its once generous Soviet aid and has suffered military defeats this year at the hands of rebels in the north, is eager to win new foreign assistance. Ethiopia is "again confronted with the task of trying to save the lives of over 4 million innocent Ethiopians, most of whom face such a problem for the second successive year in a very difficult environment," said Yilma Kassaye, head of the state Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.
Many of the victims are in the war-ravaged northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigre, he said at a meeting with foreign ambassadors and representatives of aid agencies. The rebel Eritrean People's Liberation Front earlier this year captured the Red Sea port of Massawa, Ethiopia's only deep-water harbor and normally a gateway for relief to the north.
The rebels have rejected appeals by the United Nations and the Ethiopian government to reopen the port, saying it would be used to resupply an estimated 100,000 government soldiers besieged in the Eritrean provincial capital of Asmara.
The United Nations and the government have been airlifting food and other supplies to Asmara, where civilians also are trapped. Although the rebels truck their own food from neighboring Sudan, aid officials said it is not enough to feed everyone in the two provinces.
The famine could surpass the 1984-85 tragedy in which 1 million Ethiopians died, said Kassaye. Timothy Painter, the representative for the U.N. Development Program in Ethiopia, described the government's estimate of potential devastation as "fairly accurate."
Kassaye said satellite photographs and unofficial reports show a major shortfall in food production in Tigre, which also is controlled by rebels.