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UN: Watch Horn of Africa Drought

March 30, 2000

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The United Nations warned Thursday that Ethiopia and its Horn of Africa neighbors may face drought and famine equivalent to the crisis in the mid-1980s, during which nearly 1 million people died of starvation.

Poor and infrequent rains coupled with fighting in Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia threaten to cause a major humanitarian catastrophe, said Carolyn McAskie, deputy U.N. emergency relief coordinator.

She announced that Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named the head of the World Food Program, Catherine Bertini, to be his special envoy to draw public attention to the crisis and mobilize the necessary relief operation.

``We are facing the real prospect in two months from now of another catastrophe which can be averted with the right kind of donor assistance,″ McAskie told a new conference.

The United Nations estimates it will cost $205 million to bring the needed 409,000 tons of food and other assistance to the 12.4 million people at risk of famine in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti.

But U.N. officials estimate the crisis may eventually affect 16 million people _ including residents of Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi _ requiring 1 million tons of food aid.

Ethiopia is by far the worst affected and will account for 80 percent of the aid requirement, McAskie said.

During a drought in 1984-85, an estimated 1 million people died of starvation or related illnesses in Ethiopia. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to leave their homes to seek food, creating sprawling refugee camps that became breeding grounds for disease.

The images of emaciated Ethiopians in the West prompted an enormous relief effort.

The United Nations has issued a special appeal for $190 million to help Ethiopia, about half of which has been met. But there has been no response to the U.N. appeal for Eritrea, McAskie said.

``It’s pretty obvious that the response that will be needed will be prolonged food aid relief over the next few months,″ McAskie said, adding that the United Nations wouldn’t know until the fall whether the next planting season would succeed.

Bertini plans to travel to the region on April 10, visiting Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Kenya to try to raise awareness about the situation and press governments to give aid workers access to the needy.

Aid workers have often been prevented from reaching at-risk groups in countries such as Sudan due to fighting. In southern Somalia on Thursday, the United Nations stopped its air and ground operations after unidentified gunmen shot at one of its aircraft. No one was injured.

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