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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Eyewitness: Ethiopia's fatal famine
Child
Children are suffering from severe malnutrition
By Nita Bhalla in the Ogaden region

The hungry moans of the infants immediately strike you when you enter the therapeutic feeding centre in Gode town.

There are 180 children here under the age of six, suffering from diseases related to severe malnutrition.

Dr Zelalem, who runs the centre, says: "The most common diseases are respiratory infections, diahorrea, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

"Up to five children are dying each day of such diseases."

The feeding centre was set up four weeks ago by local agency the Ogaden Welfare Society and the US Agency for International Development, to respond to the emergency brought about by severe drought.

This is the fourth consecutive year there have been no rains in the area.

An estimated 1.3 million people in Ogaden are now believed to be in dire need of food.
Ethiopian mother and child
Most of the children have been brought in by their mothers
Most of the children in the feeding centre were brought in by their mothers who have walked up to 160km (100 miles) in search of food and water.

Over the past three months, tens of thousands of people have migrated to Gode town.

Their livestock, which was their main source of income, have died due to the lack of grazing land.

The older people and young infants have already died, what you see here are older children and the stronger adults who have no means of living

Local man
Gode and its surrounding area is littered with the carcasses of cattle, goats and sheep.

Even the camels, considered to be the most resilient of animals, have stopped lactating and will die soon.

And this is a sure sign that people will be next.

With nowhere else to go, the migrants have set up make-shift camps on the outskirts of the town.

"We want to have support from international NGO's and donors and the big countries. They should come and see the plight of our people and help us," one man said.

"But even if we receive food, there is no shelter, no medicine, no potable water."
Lean Ethiopian camel
Carcasses of cattle, goats and sheep litter the area
"The older people and young infants have already died, what you see here are older children and the stronger adults who have no means of living", he said.

New graveyards

The regional area manager of the Ogaden Welfare Society, Mahamud Ugas Muhumed, says that there are five new graveyards around the town. Three are for children.

It is obvious that children are dying fast.

At one graveyard, hundreds of graves were scattered around an area about half the size of a football pitch.

Freshly dug graves, one metre long, are everywhere.

Emergency aid is coming in, but the international community and the Ethiopian Government have been criticised for doing too little too late.

The Ogaden Welfare Society, together with the UN World Food Programme and US Agency for International Development, are trying to get more aid such as cereal and other foods into the area.

But there are many logistical problems. Some areas are largely inaccessible, as road infrastructure is poor.

Lorries bringing in the food are taking five days to travel distances of 200km (125 miles) and many feel airlifts of supplies are desperately needed for areas such as Dena and East Imay.

Bureaucracy

Another reason is that the bidding process, where truck companies bid to take the goods to required areas, is long and bureaucratic.

"An auction to win the tender to distribute aid, which should take some hours, seems be taking up to two months," says Mahamud Ugas Muhumed.

Group of Ethiopian children
Up to five children are dying every day
"And in the meantime, people are dying. This needs to addressed immediately. Release the aid first and then deal with the bureaucracy," he says.

There are also reports of rebel movements, banditry and clan-based fighting in the region, which many believe is the reason for the international community's slow response.

But the zonal government deputy chairman, Mr Abdulaziz says these reports are exaggerated and there are no security problems in the Gode area.

"This area is safe. If you ask anyone around Gode town, they will tell you.

"Incidents of attacks on vehicles are few and far between. What we need is assistance from the international community urgently."

See also:

30 Mar 00 | Africa
06 Jan 00 | Africa
05 Jan 00 | Africa
21 Mar 00 | Africa
13 Sep 99 | Africa
03 Sep 99 | Americas
13 Jul 99 | Americas
23 Jun 99 | Africa
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