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The BBC's Rageh Omaar
"Many farmers pray for change"
 real 28k

Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Ethiopia and Eritrea told to end war
Ethiopian child
About 400 people, mainly children died in Gode in March
A top American aid official has called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to put aside their border war and facilitate the speedy distribution of food aid to the millions of people threatened by famine.

I had three of them (children) when I arrived here two months ago. Two of them have died

An Ethiopian mother in Gode

The official, Hugh Parmer, of the United States Agency for International Development, was speaking to reporters in Washington after a two-week visit to some of the famine-stricken areas of Ethiopia.

"I would just hope that the two sides could figure out some way, in the midst of their conflict over other things, to consider the humanitarian needs that are so severe, particularly in the southern part of Ethiopia," he said.

Mr Parmer said that he had asked the authorities in both countries if the United Nations could transport food aid from the Eritrean port of Assab through war zones into Ethiopia.


But he said the response from both countries had been less than enthusiastic.

"I understand there are a lot of political, diplomatic issues involved that I'm not competent to deal with ... but just from the point of view of logistics, it would make life a lot easier if we had that route," he added.

War affected route

Many observers believe that the route from the Eritrean port of Assab through to southern Ethiopia is the most reliable and convenient compared to other alternatives.



We have to have the pledges confirmed now, we have to the ships on the high seas immediately

WFP's Judith Lewis
And earlier this week, Eritrea offered the services of the port for the distribution of food aid.

But Ethiopia dismissed the offer as a public relations gimmick.

They accused Eritrea of stealing hundreds of tonnes of food aid from Assab in the past.

The government in Addis Ababa has, instead, decided to use the port in neighbouring Djibouti and another one in Somaliland.

Battle in the horn
"The port capacity (in Djibouti) is theoretically sufficient to meet the needs for food coming in, but just barely," Mr Parmer observed.

The roads from the two ports are also not as good as the one from Assab.

Ethiopian child
High-protein, high-energy food is being airlifted in to feed the hungry
But the UN World Food Programme Director in Ethiopia, Judith Lewis, told the BBC that they were doing their best to make good use of the two ports.

"We have been working on a special operation in the port of Djibouti to increase its capacity to between 20 and 30%," she said.

"We are also looking at Port Sudan as a docking site for lightening vessels and also if the rains don't obstruct the roads we would have a corridor from Sudan into the northern part of Ethiopia," she added.

Appalling scenes

Mr Parmer also spoke of the appalling scenes he came across in the town of Gode, where local officials said more than 400 people, many of them children, died of starvation in March.

"As we drove from the airport into Gode, the fields on both sides of the road were littered with the carcasses of dead livestock - animals of all kinds, cattle, sheep, goats, even a few camels that are, of course, the heartiest of beasts," he told reporters.

He said that he saw one woman with a sick child in her arm whose story reflected the scale of the problem.

"I had three of them when I arrived here two months ago. Two of them have died," the woman said.

Mr Parmer said in the surrounding region, thousands of people were now in what he described as a pre-famine condition.

He mentioned also that a second emergency airlift of 40 tonnes of high-protein, high-energy biscuits was under way to Gode.

The aid is expected to arrive in Ethiopia next week.

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See also:

06 Apr 00 | Africa
Tough job ahead in Ethiopia
05 Apr 00 | Africa
UN to distribute Ethiopia aid
04 Apr 00 | Africa
Aid to Ethiopia 'too slow'
04 Apr 00 | Africa
Ethiopia: 'Too little too late'
31 Mar 00 | Africa
Why is famine back again?
04 Apr 00 | Africa
EU famine relief for Africa
03 Apr 00 | Africa
Disaster threatens in Ethiopia
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