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Ethiopia rejects warning of hunger after drought

31 December 09 17:21 GMT

An Ethiopian minister has denied reports that millions of people need urgent food aid after failed rains.

Disaster Prevention Minister Mikitu Kassa told the BBC that the government was helping those hit by the drought.

He was speaking after the US-funded Famine Early Warning System warned of increased hunger in parts of the country in the coming months.

Ethiopia has been extremely sensitive to images showing its people as starving since the famine of 1984-5.

Mr Mikitu said the report was "not evidence-based".

"It is baseless, it is contrary to the situation on the ground," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

He admitted that 5.7 million people were currently getting food aid but argued that "in the Ethiopian context, there is no hunger, no famine" and that the situation was not as bad as in recent years.

"The government is taking action to mitigate the problems," he said.

The latest Famine Early Warning System (Fewsnet) projections show parts of the country in the extreme east, north-east and south-west as "extremely food insecure" - one level below that for a famine - in the period January-March 2010.

The worst affected areas are in the Somali, Gambella and Afar regions.

It says high food prices, poor livestock production and low agricultural wages will lead to increased hunger.

Its report comes after the failure of both rainy seasons in 2009.

Aid agency Oxfam recently warned that drought had hit parts of East Africa for the sixth year in a row.

Oxfam said Somalia's drought was the worst for 20 years, and November rainfall was less than 5% of normal in parts of Kenya and Ethiopia.

The UN has already said it is aiming to feed 20 million people in East Africa over the next six months.

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