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Threat of Famine Looms in Ethiopia Amid Worsening Drought - 2003-04-27


The U.N. World Food Program says the problems of drought and hunger in Ethiopia have significantly worsened. A recent WFP survey in Ethiopia finds the number of people at risk from famine has increased from 11 million to 12.6 million since the start of this year.

The World Food Program said it urgently needs one million tons of food to respond to this situation. WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said the agency is appealing for an additional $200 million to feed those most at risk of starvation.

"Now we have 12.6 million people that are in need of help. WFP cannot feed all of them. So, what we are targeting is the most vulnerable of them, that represents about 40 percent and the government, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) donors and in a bilateral way fill the gap. But it is very serious," she said.

Ms. Berthiaume blames the lack of rain in December and January for the rise in the number of hunger victims. She said the continued drought has resulted in a significant drop in agricultural production. This means many do not have the money to buy food in the markets.

She said the WFP expects that at the current rate, their food stocks will run out by August. In anticipation of this, she said WFP began cutting food rations in March. "Instead of giving 15 kilogram per person per day, we have cut to 12.5 kilogram per person per day. It might sound little, you know, a few kilogram less. But, for people in Ethiopia who are really living on the verge - these people have gone through years and years of drought - it is a very poor country. So the fact that you are cutting their rations even by a few grams can be catastrophic for them," she said.

Ms. Berthiaume said the WFP is particularly concerned about the children, increasing numbers of whom are becoming malnourished. To help them, she said, it is crucial that they be given special, highly enriched food.