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Saturday, June 5, 1999 Published at 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK

World: Africa

Famine threatens Ethiopia

Ethiopia fears another famine

Up to 4.6 million people in Ethiopia are facing serious food shortages according to the government which has made an urgent call for aid.

A government commission says it needs more than 350,000 tonnes of food.

Crops were stunted by an extended dry spell during the short rainy season which ends in May. This compounded the problems caused by a lower than expected crop yield following last September's long rainy season.

[ image: Eritrea says arms spending is to blame for Ethiopia's food crisis]
Eritrea says arms spending is to blame for Ethiopia's food crisis
The worst-hit area is the northwestern Amhara Region, where two million people are at risk.

There are 900,000 people who need help in the southeastern Oromia Region, 800,000 in Tigray and another 400,000 in the south of the country.

In northern Ethiopia, 400,000 people displaced by the border war with Eritrea are also in need of food aid.

The government-run Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission said the central mountains of Wollo were facing a major crisis, with people already migrating in search of food.

World Food Programme promises aid

The United Nations' World Food Programme has approved a $40.5m programme to provide more than 100,000 tonnes of food over the next six months.

This emergency food aid is intended for the most vulnerable sections of the population: pregnant women and nursing mothers, children under five, the disabled and elderly.

"We are acting now to prevent a potentially major humanitarian crisis," said WPF representative for Ethiopia, Judith Lewis.

Arms spending

Neighbouring Eritrea described Ethiopia's food needs as "disturbing in the light of their recent expenditures on military hardware".

The two countries have been fighting a border war for the past year.

Eritrean Foreign Ministry spokesman Tesfamariam Tekeste said Ethiopia had reported a "bumper harvest" last year and spoken of a capacity to export food.

He said Ethiopia's arms budget "cannot be reconciled with their readiness to simply dump their social and economic obligations on the international community".

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