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Food Crisis Warning Issued for Horn of Africa - 2002-10-04

Drought could mean millions of people in the Horn of Africa will be without food next year. An international aid group affiliated with the U.S. government says the looming food crisis in the Horn is more serious than the food crisis in southern Africa. Aid officials are concerned because people in the Horn of Africa are so much poorer. As many as 14 million Ethiopians will be in need of food aid by next March because of the lack of rain. That warning was issued by a group called the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, an affiliate of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

While the food shortage in southern Africa has attracted a lot of attention in recent months, the group says Ethiopia's problems are being largely forgotten.

In an interview with VOA Friday, Nick Maunder, a spokesman for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, says people should recognize that Ethiopians are much more vulnerable than those in southern Africa because of their extreme poverty.

"I think what it is really important to bear in mind is just how poor people are in Ethiopia," Mr. Maunder said. "And the harvest loss itself might not sound particularly great, particularly when you compare it to what is happening in southern Africa at the moment. But if you compare that to the really limited ability people have to cope with these shocks and to compensate it is a very worrying situation."

Mr. Maunder says Ethiopia does not have the assets that southern Africa does, nor is there a vibrant private sector that can step in and buy supplies during such emergencies.

Ethiopia's northern neighbor, Eritrea, is facing a crisis of similar proportions. The World Food Program warns that about one million out of the three million people in Eritrea, will require food aid in 2003.

The two countries are even more vulnerable because they have not yet recovered from their two-year border war that ended in 2000. Thousands of people are still displaced and landmines have made some farm land unusable. Thousands of soldiers are waiting to be demobilized, leaving women to cope with agricultural duties alone.