Page last updated at 00:40 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 01:40 UK

Ethiopian millions 'risk hunger'

By Martin Plaut
Africa analyst, BBC News

Kasim, age 6
Malnutrition rates among children are rising quickly

Six million children in Ethiopia are at risk of acute malnutrition following the failure of rains, the UN children's agency, Unicef, has warned.

More than 60,000 children in two Ethiopian regions require immediate specialist feeding just to survive, Unicef says.

The situation is expected to worsen in the next few months as crops fail.

Aid agencies in Ethiopia say they are short of funds as donors concentrate on the emergencies in China and Burma.

'Massive effort needed'

The agencies have fresh pictures showing listless children with distended stomachs - the tell-tale signs of acute malnutrition.

"In just one clinic we have more than 250 children who will only survive with immediate treatment," said David Noguera, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) emergency unit.

"This is absolutely alarming, we need a massive effort," he said.

Paulette Jones, of the World Food Programme (WFP), said a combination of events had led to the situation.

"We have drought - a really poor rainy season - and, of course, we have high food prices worldwide."

The WFP estimates it needs to raise $147m (75m) to tackle Ethiopia's needs.

"We are hopeful that donors will be forthcoming," said Ms Jones.

Other aid workers are not so confident. They say the money just is not arriving, with donors concentrating on the disasters in Burma and China.

The UN estimates it currently has a shortfall of 180,000 tonnes of food - and presently has no promises to meet this target.

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Country profile: Ethiopia
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