- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

About 20 million people in the Horn of Africa could face famine because of severe drought and political instability, the U.S. government said yesterday.

Leonard Rogers, who oversees emergency relief for the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), announced new aid programs yesterday for Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, calling the situation the U.S. government's "highest-priority humanitarian emergency in the world currently."

While meager rainfall and poor harvests have raised fears of a repeat of the devastating famines of the 1980s, Mr. Rogers said political factors such as tribal and clan conflicts in Sudan and Somalia and the continuing fallout from the Ethiopian-Eritrean war have played a major role.

"While the [crisis] hasn't gotten much attention, it's important to note that its roots lie in the deep poverty of each of these countries and the persistent insecurity and armed conflict which afflict them," said Mr. Rogers, who last month completed a three-week fact-finding trip to the region.

In the fiscal year that began in October 1999, AID and the Department of Agriculture have contributed $575.6 million in food and other emergency aid to seven countries in the region: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

Briefing reporters yesterday, Mr. Rogers announced plans for another $4.1 million in funding for international and private relief agencies in Ethiopia to provide food, drinking water and health care.

With the rains in Ethiopia coming just a month before the first harvests are due, international aid organizations believe that as many as 10.8 million Ethiopians are at risk, particularly in the area north of the capital of Addis Ababa and in the east along the border with Somalia.

The lack of rainfall has been much more severe in neighboring Kenya, where 3.4 million people are said to be at risk of famine. Water and power rationing are already in effect in much of the country, and the U.S. government yesterday announced a $539,000 grant to Catholic Relief Services for soil-and water-conservation programs.

"We're a long way from having a harvest that will provide relief in Kenya," Mr. Rogers said.

But the AID official added that Kenya's superior infrastructure and ability to finance commercial food imports make the shortfalls there more manageable.

A more serious situation confronts Eritrea, already reeling from military incursions by Ethiopian forces resulting from this spring's fierce border war.

The land occupied by Ethiopian forces included some of the most productive agricultural regions of the country, and the problem has been compounded by the huge number of Eritreans forced to flee their homes in the fighting.

"The military incursions came just at the time of the planting, so the Eritreans effectively have lost most of their domestic production for the entire year," said Mr. Rogers.

U.S. officials say they expect the need for emergency food and aid will carry over into the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, and more aid may be required in the coming months.

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