Geldof's praise for the US is criticised by aid agencies

Heedless of the dismay caused to international aid agencies by his support for Washington's Africa policies, Bob Geldof heaped more praise on the Bush administration yesterday.

The Live Aid founder, who is visiting Ethiopia for the first time in nearly 20 years to highlight the danger of another famine, hailed President George Bush's signature on a $15bn (£9bn) plan to fight Aids in Africa and the Caribbean, saying: "That is extremely radical and welcoming ... and will take the fight against Aids to new heights."

Earlier, Mr Geldof startled the aid world by describing Washington as one of Africa's best friends in its fight against Aids and famine. He compared Mr Bush favourably with his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who he said talked passionately about Africa, but did "f*** all". As for the EU, its response to Africa's humanitarian crisis was "pathetic and appalling".

Aid agencies have generally welcomed the $15bn US commitment against Aids, but believe it does little to counteract the Republican administration's hardline approach to trade and debt questions.

Justin Forsyth, Oxfam's director of campaigns and policy, said: "The international trade rules are a major obstacle to developing countries and America is a big impediment to resolving these.

"The harm that trade rules do to the developing world is worth much more to African countries than the American aid budget will ever be."

Undaunted by the controversy, Mr Geldof visited a feeding centre in the Awassa region of Ethiopia yesterday, one of the areas worst hit by more than two years of severe drought, where dozens of children lay waiting for high-energy food to keep them alive. He said it brought back memories of his first visit to Ethiopia in 1984, when nearly a million people starved to death.

"The situation is worse than I expected," he said, taking an emaciated child from the arms of its mother. "We are condemning these drought-affected people to death.

"Why do all this elaborate work in bringing all these people back to health if all we are going to do is send them back out to nothing? It probably isn't a famine yet. I keep going on about it, and I don't understand why we don't learn."

The Red Cross launched an appeal yesterday for emergency help to fight Aids, which it described as southern Africa's "axis of evil". John Sparrow, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: "Aids looks around and takes something evil like poverty or malnutrition and makes it worse."

Mr Sparrow said government and donor aid had little impact on the devastation the disease has caused in southern Africa. The federation made an emergency appeal for $10.3m (£6.3m) to extend its operations in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The federation's successful one-year food programme ends in July and it will be another five months before a new appeal is approved and relief programmes can resume. "The emergency appeal will allow continuity between current relief and the longer-term programme which starts at the year end," Mr Sparrow said.

Sub-Saharan Africa has 70 per cent of the world's Aids cases and the United Nations has predicted that life expectancy in Botswana will be only 29 by 2010.

The Red Cross programme will cover essential food needs, health care, water and sanitation, Aids prevention and economic sustainability. "Conventional responses to drought and disease have disappeared in the face of Aids and they can't bounce back," Mr Sparrow said.