Ethiopia is appealing for $266 million in emergency aid for the remainder of this year to alleviate food shortages threatening the lives of nearly 6.5 million people. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports officials estimate that one of every eight Ethiopians is receiving food aid during the current extended drought.
Ethiopia's minister of state for agriculture and Rural Development Mitiku Kassa is asking donor nations and humanitarian agencies to boost food aid pledges which already this year are believed to be well over $1 billion. The United States, the largest donor, has contributed more than half that amount.
Speaking to representatives of the donor community, Kassa said "we need additional resources". But he disputed reports that as many as 10 million Ethiopians are in danger of starvation.
"The joint multi-agency team came up with 6.4 million, and this number is agreed already with the regional governments and humanitarian partners. There is no mistake," Kassa said.
The United Nations and several humanitarian agencies have been quoted as saying the number of Ethiopians needing food assistance is far higher than official estimates. Mohammed Diab, Ethiopia country director for the U.N. World Food Program told donors the higher figures include millions of people who receive regular food assistance under what is called the Productive Safety Net program.
"The beneficiaries including short-term intervention to provide assistance to beneficiaries in safety net area came with a figure of 10 million so the figure is not out of place, but it does not refer to the relief component. It refers to relief and safety net component," Diab said.
That 10 million figure represents roughly 12 percent of Ethiopia's estimated 80 million citizens. Fidele Sarasorro, the United Nations representative in Ethiopia, says appeals for food assistance earlier this year netted less than two-thirds of what was needed.
"The contribution has been substantial but less than expected,"Sarasorro said. "We estimate that around 60 to 65 percent of the requirement has been contributed by donors."
Agriculture ministry officials say they are hopeful good rains in coming months will make further food aid appeals unnecessary. But humanitarian agency representatives say large injections of assistance are almost certain to be needed well into next year, even if the next rainy season is good.
Four out of five Ethiopians are farmers or pastoralists, depending on the rain for their livelihood.