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Rachel Stabb from Oxfam
"Many regions across Ethiopia are vulnerable"
 real 28k

The BBC's Orla Guerin reports from Addis Ababa:
"There's not much time to save lives"
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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"The cycle of life has been broken"
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Friday, 14 April, 2000, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Ethiopia rejects war criticism
Man with dying cow
Drought victims have lost most of their cattle
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has defended his government from charges of letting its border war with Eritrea detract from famine relief efforts.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is among those who have criticised the Ethiopian Government for failing to distribute aid "properly" and continuing to spend money on the border war.

But Mr Meles rejected the accusations, saying that poor countries like his should not be asked to put a full stomach before protecting their homeland:

"We do not believe protecting one's sovereignty is a luxury for the rich," he said.

You do as much as you can to save lives and at the same time protect your sovereignty

Meles Zenawi

UN envoy Catherine Bertini, who is continuing her tour of Ethiopia on Friday, said after meeting the prime minister that aid agencies did not have the luxury of being able to make judgements about government policies when it came to feeding people.

The British aid agency Oxfam released a statement on Friday saying that the poverty underpinning Ethiopia's current crisis could only be tackled effectively once the border conflict has ended.

Cycle of crisis

After hearing the latest pledges from Ms Bertini's assessment team, Prime Minister Meles said that if the aid does come fast, he does not believe there will be a full-scale famine.

Oxfam has warned however that even if a famine is averted this year, the country's painful cycle of crisis will not be broken until the underlying problems of poverty and conflict are tackled.

"While drought may be inevitable in Ethiopia, famine is not. It is based on the hard facts of poverty," said Nick Roseveare, Oxfam's Emergency Co-ordinator for the Horn of Africa.

A survey of 140 household last year revealed that over 90% of income is spent on food and 60% of children are malnourished and many are too ill to attend school.

Oxfam has urged aid donors to agree a substantial package of debt relief and assistance for Ethiopia and Eritrea to address the underlying causes of food shortages.

Western diplomats say the country spends an estimated $1 million a day on the conflict, and deploys around 500,000 soldiers along the border who could be committed to the distribution effort.

Not enough aid

The US government on Thursday said it was considering sending an additional 175,000 tonnes of wheat to the famine-stricken country.

It has already donated over 500,000 tonnes of food aid in response to the crisis.

woman at aid centre
People have walked for weeks to reach aid centres
The Red Cross has begun flying emergency food supplies to the south-east, but the United Nations has announced that more aid is still required.

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.

Mr Mwita 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.

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

Eight million Ethiopians are at risk of starvation, as well as millions more in Somalia, Eritrea and parts of Kenya.

The Somalian Government has criticised Ms Bertini for excluding the country on her current tour of the region.

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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
14 Apr 00 | Africa
Somalia braced for emergency
14 Apr 00 | Africa
'Crisis waiting to happen'
14 Apr 00 | Africa
Ethiopia: Is debt to blame?
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