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USAID To Fly Aid to Ethiopia

March 15, 2000

GODE, Ethiopia (AP) _ The U.S. Agency for International Development plans to fly tons of emergency food aid into southeastern Ethiopia after learning that 53 children under the age of 5 died in this town last week, a senior agency official said Wednesday.

The deaths were just one symptom of a growing food shortage in this region where drought has created a near-desert, killed thousands of the livestock that people rely on for food and income and left millions of people at risk.

``It’s a crisis, and we have got to act fast to make sure more people don’t die,″ said Hugh Parmer, the agency’s assistant administrator. ``What really moved me to take action is hearing of all those children dying. We have got to do something about that.″

Parmer is on a two-week tour of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya to assess the needs of some 15 million people threatened by food shortages. He told The Associated Press that conditions are critical in the region. He said he wanted an air drop of food to take place in the next 10 days.

On Tuesday, Parmer visited a feeding center in Gode, 360 miles southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa. There, 90 severely malnourished children under age 5 are being treated.

Regional authorities told him eight children had died in the center since it opened two weeks ago. Another 45 died in camps set up for the growing number of hungry, desperate people streaming into town.

Adan Mohammed said she spent 10 days walking 60 miles to the center with her three children in hopes of receiving food. The family’s 200 cattle and sheep died in the drought.

But the trek proved too much for her four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. Both died shortly after reaching Gode four months ago.

Protectively cradling the tiny twin of the dead one-year-old in her arms, Adan she said she had not seen rain for 18 months.

``I don’t know anything any more,″ she said. ``I just have to wait for something from God.″

According to local officials, the twice-yearly seasonal rains have failed for the last three years in the Gode area, turning the land into a near-desert.

The majority of the 460,000 people in the area, where temperatures regularly soar above 105 degrees, are nomadic herders. Ibrahim Haji Abdi, chairman of the regional emergency task force, said drought had killed more than 50 percent of their sheep and cattle and 20 percent of their camels, leaving them starving and helpless.

``It’s never been this bad, not since 1984,″ he said.

A catastrophic drought in Ethiopia in 1984-85 resulted in a major famine, the first one whose effects were seen around the world on television.

``We are two months from serious crisis if considerably more aid doesn’t arrive,″ said David Eckerson, USAID’s director for Ethiopia. The agency estimates that 7.7 million people have been effected.

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