- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

JOHANNESBURG A famine several times worse than the 1984-85 disaster is looming over the Horn of Africa, threatening more than 15 million people with starvation, the Ethiopian prime minister has said.
"The facts speak for themselves," Meles Zenawi told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday. "During the famine we had in 1984-85, the number involved was roughly a third to one half of the number of people involved now. So if that was a nightmare, this will be too ghastly to contemplate."
If his prediction proves accurate, millions could die on a scale not seen in Africa since the crisis that revolutionized humanitarian fund raising in 1985.
While governments dithered, the public pledged millions of dollars at Live Aid events. Images of emaciated Ethiopian children with bloated stomachs, too tired to brush flies away from their faces, were shown extensively on TV, prompting an unprecedented response.
Bob Geldof, the motivating force behind Live Aid, said news of an imminent famine in Ethiopia showed government-to-government aid programs had once again failed.
"Live Aid, if it did nothing else, put this at the top of the political agenda, and yet we see 15 million people dying in one country alone. That's frankly untenable. It means that all your nostrums hitherto haven't worked."
Attempts to raise humanitarian aid to head off any new crisis are likely to be hampered by "donor fatigue" among Western nations, which have already given generously this year to relieve a famine in southern Africa. Ironically when that famine was declared, aid experts reported that food aid had been offered by the Ethiopian government, which then claimed to have a surplus. That now appears premature.
The main cause of the crisis is the failure of two seasonal rains. "The current drought is unique because the short rains and the long rains have failed," Mr. Meles said.
Normally Ethiopia has two rainy seasons, a short season from February to April and a longer one from June through September. This year the short season failed and the longer one began late and finished early.
The World Food Program, the United Nations' main humanitarian relief agency, warned last week it could run out of food aid for Ethiopia as early as next month unless governments respond quickly with aid.
The Red Cross and the Red Crescent societies began a $11 million appeal Monday to help 120,000 people already suffering in Ethiopia.
U.N. agencies in Ethiopia estimate more than 6 million Ethiopians or one person in six are threatened by the drought. But according to Mr. Meles, as many as 15 million Ethiopians could be at risk.
Even though a peace treaty ended the 1998-2001 war with neighboring Eritrea, strained relations between the two sides continue to hamper humanitarian work in the region.
During the last major emergency relief operation before the war, more than 80 percent of incoming aid passed through Eritrean ports, which are now off limits to shipments bound for Ethiopia.

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