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New E Africa food crisis warning

Unda Awka

Rising food prices are putting millions of people in East Africa at risk of severe hunger and destitution, the UK-based charity Oxfam has warned.

Droughts, war and poverty have put an estimated nine to 13 million people in the region in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, it says.

The situation has been made worse by rising food prices, with wheat and rice particularly expensive.

A BBC correspondent says some people have started to eat animal feed.

Many people in the remote north-eastern Afar region raise animals for a living but many camels have died and the goats are starting to succumb to hunger too.

This means it will be difficult for the people to rebuild their herds - and their lives.

The last rain fell in the area 11 months ago and this is the second serious drought in the region in three years.

The BBC's Karen Allen says the cruel combination of rising food prices and animals that are dying and falling sick could push people over the edge.

The only shop in one area she visited does have maize for sale but few local people can afford to buy it.

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People in Afar, Ethiopia, say they are struggling to survive

Shop-keeper Mohammed says people would need three goats to buy a single sack of grain - which would last an average family a week or two.

One mother whose family has been eating animal feed asked:

"How long before our children start to fall sick? We have been living like this for a month"

Oxfam is calling on donors to increase aid levels to the region.

"The cost of food has escalated by up to 500% in some places, leaving people who have suffered drought after drought in utter destitution," says Oxfam's Rob McNeil, who has just returned from the Somali and Afar regions of Ethiopia.

"Some of the roads we travelled on were littered with dead livestock. There is little or no pasture or water for the animals that people rely upon. People are increasingly becoming desperate."

The call follows another warning on Tuesday from the UN World Food Programme, saying that more than 14 million people in the Horn of Africa needed food aid because of drought and rising food and fuel prices.

Acute malnutrition

In Somalia, the cost of imported rice increased by up to 350% between the beginning of 2007 and May 2008.

In areas of Ethiopia, the price of wheat has more than doubled over a six-month period, and food prices are expected to remain high until the next harvest in October.

In the areas of East Africa heavily dependent on food imports, such as Somalia, global food price rises are making food more expensive.

  • In Somalia, 2.6 million (35% of the population) require emergency assistance, Oxfam says. This could increase to half the population of the country (3.5 million) by the end of 2008. Between 18% and 24% of children are acutely malnourished
  • In Ethiopia, the government estimates 4.6 million people are now in need of emergency food assistance. This has more than doubled from 2.2 million in need of help at the beginning of this year. Some 75,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition in drought-stricken areas, the government says
  • In Turkana, northern Kenya, an Oxfam survey showed 25% of children are suffering from acute malnutrition, the highest in the country

High malnutrition rates have been reported in several parts of Ethiopia and could increase without an immediate increase in humanitarian assistance.


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