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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 21:06 GMT 22:06 UK
Red Cross begins Ethiopia airlift
Gode hospital
The hospital in Gode, the worst-affected region
The Red Cross has begun flying emergency food supplies to famine-stricken south-east Ethiopia.

But the United Nations has announced that pledges of food aid are still far short of what is required.

The war closed supply routes from Eritrean ports

The World Food Programme executive director, Catherine Bertini, met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Thursday to discuss ways to deliver more food and medicines to those suffering starvation.

But the prime minister refused to use the ports of Eritrea to bring in much-needed supplies, despite the neighbouring country's offer of help.

Mr Meles rejected criticism that his government had neglected the welfare of its citizens to pursue its 23-month-old border conflict with Eritrea.

"I hope her visit to our country will mark a new beginning in the chapter of this saga where humanitarian issues are separated from political issues," he said.

Although he said the West should have responded quicker, aid promised by the European Union and the United States would help prevent deaths on a mass scale.

"I do not believe there will be famine in this country," he said.

Ms Bertini said the international community had initially pledged less aid because the drought had been expected to break this year.

She is currently the famine-stricken region, which includes parts of southern Somalia and northern Kenya, as well as Ethiopia.

Aid arrives

A Hercules C-130 landed on Thursday morning at Gode airport - the centre of Ethiopia's worst-affected region - carrying 15 tonnes of emergency food aid.

Ethiopian child
Ethiopia needs twice the aid promised so far

The International Committee of the Red Cross's emergency operation is scheduled to last at least until the end of June, but will be extended to December if rains expected next month do not come.

For the first two months of the operation, the ICRC has set aside 4,512 tonnes of aid, which will be airlifted every day from Nairobi to Gode and then delivered by road to nearby villages.

Village elders will distribute rations of food to the 188,000 people believed to be affected by famine in the area, overseen by ICRC and Ethiopian Red Cross Society officials.

Rations of oil and pre-cooked fortified food (maize, soya, sugar) will supplement the wheat already distributed by the Ethiopian Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission.

Not enough aid

A senior economist with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said the international community had pledged less than half the required emergency food relief.

Village women
The Red Cross will supervise food distribution

Mwita Rukandema said pledges had been received for 269,000 tonnes of emergency food aid - as against the 652,000 tonnes that the FAO believes is necessary.

Mr Rukandema said even more food would have to be donated if the "belg" harvest - named after the seasonal rains due in May or June - were to fail.

"Prospects are unfavourable because the rains are late and, where they are falling, they are erratic," he said.

US State Department spokesman, James Rubin, said a new food shipment of some 40 tonnes would reach Ethiopia by the weekend.

Long-term strategy

And FAO assistant director-general, Hartwig de Haen, said the organisation needed to develop a long-term strategy to prevent future famine.

He pointed out that Ethiopia had suffered devastating famine only 15 years ago.

"Why did they not invest more and earlier in better and more sustainable water management?" Mr de Haen said.

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See also:

13 Apr 00 | Africa
War blocks Ethiopia's lifeline
12 Apr 00 | Africa
Urgent plea for famine aid
12 Apr 00 | Africa
Famine devastates Somali family
12 Apr 00 | Africa
In pictures: Famine in Gode
06 Apr 00 | Talking Point
Ethiopia: Too late to avert catastrophe?
31 Mar 00 | Africa
Why is famine back again?
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