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Red Cross Says Famine Can Be Prevented in East Africa

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says there is still time to prevent the growing food shortages in Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa from turning into a general famine. The Red Cross says more than 11 million people are in desperate need of assistance.

The Red Cross says people across East Africa already are in a state of crisis. It says people are starting to move across national borders in search of food and water, and this is making a bad situation worse.

Red Cross spokesman, Jean-Luc Martinage, says all countries in East Africa are suffering from drought. He says the hoped for rains have failed to come, resulting in crop failures. He notes the rain that has fallen in northern Kenya during the past few weeks is not enough to guarantee a good harvest in June and July. He says 3.5 million people there are threatened with starvation.

Besides the drought, he says countries also are suffering from poverty, some from conflict, and inadequate health and sanitation services.

"In Burundi, for instance, we have now about two-million people affected and the lack of rain is only one part of the problem. Burundi is also facing the consequences of a long-lasting civil war with a large number of refugees expected to return home from camps in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Martinage. "So, we need to provide those returnees with food, shelter and health services."

Tanzania is another country whose critical situation only now is beginning to be recognized. A recent Red Cross assessment of the country finds food shortages there are acute and widespread. It says about 3.7 million people are short of food and the price of Tanzania's staple maize crop has gone up by 85-percent.

Martinage says time is running out for people in East Africa.

"We are trying to prevent this food insecurity situation, as we call it, that exists in regional pockets in East Africa to turn to a general famine situation," he said. "And, we will provide, of course, food distribution. But, also livestock protection because a lot of cattle is dying. And, obviously, the consequences on the local population."

The Red Cross says it needs $15.5 million to assist hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Burundi. The money will be used for food, water and sanitation, health care and livestock protection.