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Aid Agencies Warn of Africa Famine ‘While the World Looks Elsewhere’

December 11, 1990

LONDON (AP) _ British aid agencies say millions of people in the four corners of Africa face starvation as early as January, and some compare the situation to the Ethiopian famine that shocked the world five years ago.

John Magrath, a spokesman for the Oxfam charity, said Monday he had received a telex from a worker just back from the Ethiopian province of Eritrea:

″Terrible drought,″ it said. ″Animals dying. People already on the move.″

Oxfam has joined with six other agencies to form the British Disaster Emergency Committee, which is launching an appeal in the new year for funds to assist Ethiopia, the Sudan, Mozambique, Angola and Liberia.

The requests for help for Africa come at a time when the European Community is pulling together a $2 billion food aid program for the Soviet Union, Oxfam spokesman Tony Vaux noted.

″A problem is building while the world is looking elsewhere,″ he said.

The other participating agencies are the British Red Cross, Action Aid, Christian Aid, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, the Save the Children Fund and Help the Aged.

Announcing the appeal on Monday, the groups set no financial target but said they were appealing on behalf of ″victims of a major famine now threatening millions of people in many parts of Africa.″

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has appealed for 1.3 million tons of food aid for Sudan - 1 million tons for relief and the rest to replenish depleted stocks. It said major and immediate relief is needed to avert calamitous famine.

Mozambique’s government says half of its 16.3 million people face deprivation or death because of food shortages aggravated by a 15-year-old civil war.

Liberia is suffering food shortage compounded by the disruption of war. In Angola, an estimated 1.9 million people are affected by food shortages.

Oxfam workers John Wilding and Trish Silkin said Monday that they had found a near-total crop failure in Eritrea and severe crop failures in another civil war-ravaged Ethiopian province, Tigre.

″There will be a food crisis in Eritrea as early as January unless there is an expanded program of relief,″ said Wilding, who estimated that 2.5 million Eritreans are at risk of death from hunger or thirst.

In Eritrea, Wilding said, there were no crops to assess. ″There is an almost complete lack of grazing, and livestock is in an extremely poor condition. Water levels are falling below the bottoms of many wells.″

The situation is less severe in neighboring Tigre, Wilding said, but 2.2 million people need food aid, he said.

Ms. Silkin said the conditions in Ethiopia were similar to that preceding the disastrous famine of 1984-85, when about 2 million Africans died of starvation or famine-related ailments, about half of them in Ethiopia.

″The potential for the same situation is there,″ she said, but added that now there is an effective distribution system for food relief.

A report prepared for a World Bank meeting in Paris on Monday said Mozambique would need more than 1 million tons of food aid next year to stave off mass starvation.

″Massive, direct, emergency assistance is required now,″ the report says.

The FAO has promised 25,000 tons of wheat, 19,000 of which have been delivered. No other donors have made any commitments.

It is the second consecutive year of severe food deficits in Sudan because of lack of rain.

The harvest also has been hindered in the south by a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in eight years and displaced many more.

Estimates of the number of people at risk in the Sudan vary from 3 million to 11 million.

Adam Kellett-Long of the British Disasters Emergency Committee said the civil war in Liberia was causing widespread famine and making it difficult to distributed aid.

″Reports we have say people are already starving there and some say up to 80 percent of the inhabitants have malnutrition,″ he said.

A U.N. relief program for Angola began early in November, after the government and rebels of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola agreed to let the convoys pass.

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