Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has warned that his country faces a famine
worse than that of 1984 which killed nearly one million people and sparked a big
international relief effort.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies renewed
an appeal for aid, calling for $11m to alleviate drought suffering across Ethiopia,
where much of the population already lives in abject poverty.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told the BBC that some six million people already needed food aid and the number facing starvation could rise to 15 million early in the new year if international donors did not come to the country's aid.
Mr Meles said it was "like living through a recurring nightmare".
"If [the 1984 famine] was a nightmare, then this will be too ghastly to contemplate,"
The Ethiopian Government was already barely able to keep its people alive
let alone supply adequate food, he said, and could not afford to buy in extra
He predicted that the number of people who could be hit as a result of the new drought might be three times the number affected during the earlier famine.
Bob Geldof, the driving force behind the 1984 relief effort Live Aid, said
the new crisis suggested that famine relief programs of recent decades were "untenable".
Out of sight
Mr Meles said he feared that people in developed countries might be lulled
into thinking that the drought was a manageable problem because there were no
pictures on TV screens of skeletal figures as there were in the 1980s.
Ethiopia still lacked the facilities to conserve rainwater, Mr Meles added.
During a visit to the village of Dir Fakar, 200 kilometres south of the capital
Addis Ababa, BBC Today program correspondent Mike Thomson saw vital watering holes
reduced to dustbowls surrounded by fields of failed crops.
Some local people are already resigned to death from starvation, our correspondent
Georgia Shaver, the World Food Program's director in Ethiopia, says that while
up to 14 million people needed food aid across six countries in southern Africa,
"in Ethiopia we could have the same number in just one country".
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Geldof said that the new crisis in Ethiopia showed
that current ideas about famine prevention did not work.
"Live Aid, if it did nothing else, put this at the very top of the political
agenda... and yet we see 15 million people in one country alone. That's frankly
untenable," he said.
"It means that all your nostrums hitherto haven't worked."
He criticized the European Union which, he said, was spending huge sums on
agricultural subsidies at home which could be better spent in Ethiopia and other
Michael Curtis, a spokesman for the EU's commissioner for Development and
Humanitarian Aid, said the EU had contributed 60m euros - the equivalent of 100,000
tonnes of cereal - to Ethiopia to date in 2002 and planned to donate more.
He said the EU was also working alongside the Ethiopian Government and the
United States to create irrigation systems.
Andrew Pendleton, who advises the charity Christian Aid on Ethiopia, pointed
out that Ethiopia's ability to cope with the drought was hampered by its continuing
foreign debt, which eats up at least 10% of the state's revenues.
"That is an enormous amount of money to take away from a country that is critically
poor," he said.
Copyright 2002 BBC