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Up to 15 million in Horn of Africa could face starvation, UN relief official warns

Up to 15 million in Horn of Africa could face starvation, UN relief official warns

Kenzo Oshima at press conference
Up to 15 million people in Ethiopia and Eritrea could face famine conditions in the coming months, spelling a massive crisis for Africa when coupled with the 14 million in the southern part of the continent already dealing with hunger and food shortages, a senior United Nations relief official said today in New York.

"If you combine these two figures, you are talking about quite an enormous number," Kenzo Oshima, the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator, said at a press briefing on his just-concluded mission to the Horn of Africa, where he visited Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Sudan. "The magnitude of the financial and logistical requirements of these two emergencies combined will present an enormous challenge in the coming months in Africa."

Mr. Oshima said that Ethiopia and Eritrea have been once again struck by serious drought, leading to enormous humanitarian needs this year. "It will lessen next year, [but] if the worse case scenario prevails, we may be having a humanitarian crisis similar to the scale of the disaster we are now witnessing right now in southern Africa," he warned.

In both countries, the Relief Coordinator went to areas traditionally known as breadbasket regions where the erratic rain this year has caused almost complete crop failure. "The maize, the sorghum and other crops are either wilted or stunted and bearing no fruit, no crop, no grain - they are almost lost," he said. Farmers have tried planting again and again, but rain came either too little or too late, and there was very little hope of reaping the crop that is on the ground.

Last Monday, the UN and the Government of Ethiopia launched an appeal seeking 273,000 tons of food to meet the immediate needs of some 6 million Ethiopians until the end of the year, Mr. Oshima said. Next year poses greater uncertainty, with experts predicting anywhere from 6 to 10 million people being affected by the food shortages.