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Red Cross Warns of Humanitarian Catastrophe in Ethiopia - 2003-01-09

The International Committee of the Red Cross is warning that immediate action is needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia. The Swiss-based organization says months of drought have left millions of people in urgent need of aid.

For the second time in less than a month, Red Cross officials are appealing for money - nearly $50 million - to help Ethiopia.

The chief of Red Cross operations in the horn of Africa, Jacques de Maio, says between 10 and 15 million Ethiopians are in danger of starvation if food does not get delivered soon. "We have come to the conclusion that indeed there is a major emergency in the making, a major crisis that needs to be addressed preventively rather than sitting idle and waiting for the worst to happen," he said.

Red Cross officials say the drought is widespread. According to Mr. De Maio, many farmers have lost 90 percent of their crops. He says the money from the appeal will be used to get food to people in need and to buy good quality seeds so farmers can get them into the ground in time for the planing season, which begins in February and March.

The Red Cross official says the farmers are desperate. "They fear [they won't] have enough strength to work in the fields and therefore most of them are now facing what they term the end of the tunnel," said Jacques de Maio. "They fear that they are going to face starvation by February - March 2003."

Almost 20 years ago, back in 1984-85, another famine hit Ethiopia, leading to the deaths of millions of people. Mr. De Maio says this time, if the aid arrives quickly enough, millions of lives could be saved.