The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it is taking swift action to help an estimated 40,000 Ethiopians facing starvation. The Red Cross is launching an emergency appeal for $1.7 million to provide urgently needed food relief. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

Drought is a recurring phenomenon in the Horn of Africa. Many areas of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and parts of northern Kenya are facing losses from this year's harvests.

The International Red Cross Federation says it is particularly concerned about the welfare of some 40,000 people in the Wolaita, Sidama, Moyale and Bale areas of southern Ethiopia. It says they are suffering severe food shortages.

Director of Programs for the Red Cross, Thomas Gurtner, says the emergency appeal is a stopgap measure to help tide these people over until the next harvest in October.

"If they can plant now and if the rains actually come and this is the rainy season now-we are in the middle of it, then the prospects would be better for the future. So, it is a relatively short-term intervention as such," he said.

The cumulated effects of poor rains during the last two seasons have led to the deterioration in the physical condition of livestock. This has resulted in lower livestock prices and a reduction of family incomes at a time when the price of cereal has increased dramatically.

Gurtner says many people are at risk of starvation, especially young children and the elderly who are at particular risk.

"I think we are not yet in front of a famine. You can see there is a danger of famine. We have moderate malnutrition rates that are starting to increase. It is creeping in. It is a silent onset, a slow onset disaster. Let us say these food distributions are now being carried out as also some of the agricultural support is carried out as a preventative measure to prevent people from being further destitute, having to sell off... stuff they have and not lose the little possessions they still have," he said.

Gurtner says the appeal will be revised as soon as full assessments are available. He expects more money will be needed to cover health needs as well as water and sanitation services.