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BBC's Rageh Omaar
Reports on the famine threatening parts of Ethiopia
 real 28k

Thursday, 6 January, 2000, 11:16 GMT
Hunger stalks Ethiopia's dry land
Ethiopian landscape
The rains have stayed away and the crops have failed again
By World Affairs correspondent Rageh Omaar

Another humanitarian disaster looms as hunger again takes hold in many parts of Ethiopia.

As always, the first victims are the most vulnerable.

Malnourished child
Malnourished children succumb to other diseases

Clinics treat the severest cases of malnutrition, giving them the emergency supplements that are often their only hope.

Exhausted mothers have often walked a whole day to reach a clinic in their search for help for their children.

One child I saw in the south-west in Konso is three years old, but weighs less than half what she should. In their weakened condition, many children are falling prey to diarrhoea and pneumonia.

People are coming from remote villages, like Galga, where they have no food left after two years of failed rains and lost harvests.

Most of them have not any chance, the chance which is waiting for them is death because there is nothing in their house or in their home.

Mathewes Echano, feeding centre nurse

One farmer showed me how he has to scavenge for wild plants to feed his family. The reserves of grains he normally stores to see him through difficult times are empty.

Like 30,000 other households in the area, his family have also eaten their stocks of seeds for the next harvest.

Men who would normally be working in their fields can now only watch the drought's devastating effect on their community.

This is why so many people are going hungry.

Sporadic rains came too late for this year's crop.

Emergency stage

Ethiopia says the drought is now at the emergency stage.

It should be harvest time and the crops should be at their peak, but everywhere you look, the maize and sorghum, which so many people depend on, have withered and died.

Aid delivery
Some aid is getting through

If the next harvest fails, it is hard to see how the people of this region will survive.

The European Union and the United Kingdom Government are beginning to respond with food aid, but there is a long way to go.

Ethiopia says at least six million people will need over a 250,000 tonnes of supplies for the next four months.

Farm Africa aid worker Michael Assefa said that if there was no rain within three to four months then the situation could be "catastrophic".

"There has to be certain assistance or we just have to bridge these people to the next harvest," he said.

But today's crisis is not on the scale of Ethiopia's famine of 1984, when the ruling government forced people off their land, into huge camps and then tried to keep the disaster hidden from the outside world.

Crucial lessons learnt

Crucial lessons have been learnt. Today, the Ethiopian Government is encouraging drought-affected communities to help themselves.

In Konso, villagers are building roads so the aid can get through, allowing them to stay on the land.

Villagers in Konso
Villagers in Konso are building a road

And Christian Aid Ethiopia Director Wilfred Ebun-Cole says that even if the situation in Konso can be saved "there so many other places, like Konso, all over Ethiopia".

"There has to be a significant amount of mobilisation of resources to prevent starving of several millions of people," he warns.

For many Ethiopians, each day is now a struggle to survive. Only a major international response in the coming three months will help this country avert another humanitarian disaster.

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See also:

03 Sep 99 | Americas
Mounting famine threat in Ethiopia
13 Sep 99 | Africa
World Bank aid blow for Horn
13 Jul 99 | Americas
New aid appeal for Ethiopia
12 Aug 99 | Africa
UN issues urgent Africa appeal
23 Jun 99 | Africa
Hunger fear for Horn of Africa
05 Jan 00 | Africa
Is aid really helping?
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