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US Official: Food Aid Sufficient to Avoid Famine in East Africa


A senior U.S. aid agency official predicts there will be no famine this year in the Horn of Africa, even though conditions are worse than during previous periods of catastrophic food shortage. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports East Africa remains the region of the world hardest hit by the global food crisis.

Michael Hess of the U.S. Agency for International Development says in some parts of Somalia, and the Somali region of Ethiopia, nearly one-third of the population is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. That is more than double the emergency threshold level.

Hess, assistant administrator of USAID's Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance says Somalia needs as much as 40,000 tons of food aid every month. Several areas of Ethiopia are in similar circumstances.

But after a five-day tour of the region, Hess told reporters that aid workers believe they probably have enough food to avoid a famine. "The conditions are worse than they were 17 years ago, when we did have a famine in Somalia, but there are a lot more people working in the area, there's a lot better communications, so I was heartened to hear, because I was concerned about famine, that we might reach it in Somalia, but our partners say it will probably not happen this year, given these conditions," he said.

Hess acknowledged that aid workers have limited access to the population in parts of Ethiopia's ethnic Somali region known as the Ogaden. Some aid agencies and rights groups accuse Ethiopia of deliberately withholding aid to villages sympathetic to rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front. Ethiopia's government vehemently denies the charges.

Hess expressed concern at figures showing that in July, the most recent month for which statistics are available, only 41-percent of the food available for distribution in the Somali region reached the people who need it. "It is a difficult area, the Somali region, but we were concerned it got out to end users, the beneficiaries and 41 percent is not enough. We want to make sure 100 percent of the people who really need the food get it. This is difficult area to reach and we want to make sure it gets all the way out to those beneficiaries," he said.

The exact number of Ethiopians in need of food aid is in dispute, but it is believed to be somewhere between five and 10 percent of the population of more than 80 million. The government issued a figure of four-point-six million dependent on food aid a few months ago, but that is disputed by aid agencies, and officials say the number may soon be revised upward.

Hess says while the word 'famine' may not apply, the Horn of Africa region is the world's most severely 'food insecure' region. "I get calls almost every day from ambassadors who say they have a food crisis. And I say, No you don't, ambassador. You need to go to the Horn of Africa. You need to go to a stabilization center and look into the eyes of these kids in the Horn of Africa and then come back and tell me you've got a food problem," he said.

Hess says the United States has provided one million tons of food to the Horn of Africa this year, at a cost of $915 million, making the United States the region's largest donor of food aid. USAID this week announced it is sending an additional $60 million of assistance to Ethiopia through the United Nations World Food Program.
A senior U.S. aid agency official predicts there will be no famine this year in the Horn of Africa, even though conditions are worse than during previous periods of catastrophic food shortage. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports East Africa remains the region of the world hardest hit by the global food crisis.

Michael Hess of the U.S. Agency for International Development says in some parts of Somalia, and the Somali region of Ethiopia, nearly one-third of the population is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. That is more than double the emergency threshold level.

Hess, assistant administrator of USAID's Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance says Somalia needs as much as 40,000 tons of food aid every month. Several areas of Ethiopia are in similar circumstances.

But after a five-day tour of the region, Hess told reporters that aid workers believe they probably have enough food to avoid a famine. "The conditions are worse than they were 17 years ago, when we did have a famine in Somalia, but there are a lot more people working in the area, there's a lot better communications, so I was heartened to hear, because I was concerned about famine, that we might reach it in Somalia, but our partners say it will probably not happen this year, given these conditions," he said.

Hess acknowledged that aid workers have limited access to the population in parts of Ethiopia's ethnic Somali region known as the Ogaden. Some aid agencies and rights groups accuse Ethiopia of deliberately withholding aid to villages sympathetic to rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front. Ethiopia's government vehemently denies the charges.

Hess expressed concern at figures showing that in July, the most recent month for which statistics are available, only 41-percent of the food available for distribution in the Somali region reached the people who need it. "It is a difficult area, the Somali region, but we were concerned it got out to end users, the beneficiaries and 41 percent is not enough. We want to make sure 100 percent of the people who really need the food get it. This is difficult area to reach and we want to make sure it gets all the way out to those beneficiaries," he said.

The exact number of Ethiopians in need of food aid is in dispute, but it is believed to be somewhere between five and 10 percent of the population of more than 80 million. The government issued a figure of four-point-six million dependent on food aid a few months ago, but that is disputed by aid agencies, and officials say the number may soon be revised upward.

Hess says while the word 'famine' may not apply, the Horn of Africa region is the world's most severely 'food insecure' region. "I get calls almost every day from ambassadors who say they have a food crisis. And I say, No you don't, ambassador. You need to go to the Horn of Africa. You need to go to a stabilization center and look into the eyes of these kids in the Horn of Africa and then come back and tell me you've got a food problem," he said.

Hess says the United States has provided one million tons of food to the Horn of Africa this year, at a cost of $915 million, making the United States the region's largest donor of food aid. USAID this week announced it is sending an additional $60 million of assistance to Ethiopia through the United Nations World Food Program.


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