Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Saturday, 14 June 2008 15:44 UK

UN 'exaggerated' Ethiopia drought

By Martin Plaut
BBC News

Two malnourished children at a feeding centre in Shanto, Ethiopia, on 8 June 2008
The Ethiopian government says Unicef's figure was wrong

A fresh row has erupted over the number of children affected by the current drought in Ethiopia.

In a BBC interview, Ethiopia's health minister labelled claims by the UN children's fund that 6m children need urgent help as a "fabrication".

There is no doubt about the severity of the current Ethiopian drought. A joint appeal this week by the UN and Ethiopia put the total number affected at 4.5m.

Unicef's Ethiopia head Bjorn Ljundqvist denies causing confusion.

A press release issued late last month by the UN's children's fund said: "An estimated 120,000 children are in need of urgent therapeutic care for severe malnutrition.

"Unicef Ethiopia today cautioned that up to 6m children under five years of age are living in impoverished, drought-prone districts and require urgent preventative health and nutrition intervention."

'Completely exaggerated'

The international media took that to mean that 6m children were threatened by drought.

The government accepts that tens of thousands of children are so malnourished they could die, without immediate attention.

But Health Minister Dr Tedros Adhanom told the BBC: "The 6m children issue is completely exaggerated and actually a fabrication. Six million children are not affected."

Clearly the wording used by Unicef clouded the issues and has left a bitter rift between the UN and the Ethiopian government.

Unicef, however, says the issue has now been resolved.

Ethiopia appeals for urgent aid
12 Jun 08 |  Africa

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