Page last updated at 21:32 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 22:32 UK

Ethiopia appeals for urgent aid

By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News, Addis Ababa

A woman with her two malnourished sons in a feeding centre in Shanto, Ethiopia (8 June 2008)
Unless there is more food distribution, agencies will struggle to treat people

Ethiopia has launched an urgent appeal to international donors for more than $300m (154m) of emergency aid.

A total of 4.6 million people are now thought to need food aid, because of the drought which struck most of the country in the early part of this year. In some parts of the country, health centres and feeding clinics are already being overwhelmed with large numbers of severely malnourished children.

Existing stocks of food aid will cover June, but the crunch will come in July.

The urgency of this appeal is not in doubt - help is needed now, in the form of a general distribution of food to everyone in the worst affected areas, as well as extra rations for those known to be vulnerable elsewhere in the country.

Without help, thousands of children will not survive the next few months, but as we travelled through the villages there was no sign, as yet, of the kind of operation that would save lives
Gavin Hewitt
BBC correspondent, Ethiopia

But the food to do this is simply not available inside Ethiopia.

The government body which deals with these crises, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency (DPPA), says it needs more than 500,000 tonnes of food. It only has 118,000 tonnes.

The head of the DPPA, Simon Mechale, has described the prospects for July as "very, very critical".

Even if the main rains are good, the start of the next harvest in Ethiopia will not be until August or September at the very earliest.

The UN World Food Programme is now frantically trying to find sources of food close enough to Ethiopia to get it there in time to fill the gap.

This will mean raiding other programmes like school feeding, and diverting ships heading for other destinations. And it is all going to need huge sums of money.

The UK offered 10m ($19.5m) this week - normally a very useful sum, but a drop in the ocean compared with the $325m needed.


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