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Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 02:52 GMT 03:52 UK

World: Americas

Mounting famine threat in Ethiopia

Many of those at risk are children

More than five million people in Ethiopia are facing an increasing threat of famine after severe drought devastated crops across large areas of the country.

The BBC's Emily Buchanan: "Could this be the return of the nightmare"
The drought raises the spectre of a famine on the scale of the one in 1984 in which 800,000 people died.

The situation is being made worse by the 16-month-long war between Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

Aid workers believe the country is in a "pre-famine situation", and say international help is urgently required.

"We are seeing all of the ingredients of famine that we have known from previous years," said Sarah Hughes of Christian Aid.

"However, we're still 200,000 tonnes short of the required food aid needs."

The Ethiopian Government put out an urgent appeal for 350,000 tonnes of food aid in June.

Long wait for next harvest

[ image: Not enough food aid has arrived]
Not enough food aid has arrived
It said the worst-hit area was the northwestern Amhara Region, where two million people's lives are at risk.

A further 900,000 people needed help in the southeastern Oromia Region, 800,000 in Tigray and another 400,000 in the south of the country.

Crops were stunted by an extended dry spell during the short rainy season which ends in May.

This compounded the problems caused by a lower than expected crop yield following last September's long rainy season.

The next harvest is some 10 months away.

Kosovo effect

But with international attention focused elsewhere, Ethiopia is still waiting for much of the needed aid to arrive.

"A great deal of government time has been spent one way or the other with the Kosovo issue at the expense of all the other issues in the world, and this includes the Africa issues as well," Jim Borton of the United Nations Development Programme said.

The Ethiopian Government said in July that it knew of no firm promises of food aid after August.

Correspondents say some countries will be wary about giving help to Ethiopia while it continues to spend $1m a day on the war with Eritrea.

The Ethiopian Government says the drought and the war are two separate issues.

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