Horn of Africa drought threatens 16 million

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The Independent Online

Up to 16 million people are at risk from drought in the Horn of Africa - chiefly southern and eastern Ethiopia - whose consequences could be as deadly as the famine that killed nearly 1 million people in the region in the mid-1980s, the United Nations said yesterday.

A United Nations official, announcing in New York that the World Food Programme executive director, Catherine Bertini, would travel to the region on 11 April, said six countries apart from Ethiopia were affected because their food stocks were low - Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan.

Carolyn McAskie, the UN deputy relief co-ordinator, said three factors - months of poor rains, refugee flows and indications that Ethiopia had diverted resources to its two-year war with Eritrea - were chiefly to blame. She said that rapid action could avert a disaster similar to that of 1984-1985. "It is urgent that pre-emptive measures are now taken to avert such a catastrophe.''

In the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, said 8 million of his people faced starvation. He said that 500,000 tonnes of food promised to his country by the United States would not be enough to avert a famine. He denied diverting droughtrelief resources, such as lorries, to the war effort.

Half of an existing £120m UN appeal for Ethiopia has been met but donors have not responded to a call for £30m for Eritrea.