The administrator of the U. S. Agency for International Development, J. Brady Anderson, says that in the six countries in and around the Horn of Africa, about 15 million people "are at risk for famine."
Anderson refers to more than eight million people in Ethiopia, nearly three million in Kenya and hundreds of thousands of others in Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
There is what Anderson calls a "massive" food shortage and the reason is drought. There have been complete crop failures in the past few years, and, in addition to crops, farmers have also lost many of their animals, especially cattle.
USAID funds a Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) and because of this system and other indicators, USAID has known what would happen if emergency food aid wasn't sent to the region, and it is moving now to avoid a repeat of what happened in 1984 when 800,000 people died in Ethiopia.
The UN and other international agencies are asking for food aid and the U.S. is already responding with a commitment of about 650,000 metric tons, about half of what's been requested.
In addition, Hugh Parmer of USAID is going to the Horn of Africa to make a firsthand assessment of the situation. He and his team will examine the capabilities of the port in Djibouti to handle large food aid shipments. Trucks, fuel supplies and the conditions of roads will also be looked at.
There's a little more than a month's supply of food available in the region at this time and Parmer says "there is no famine now."
However, Parmer says that "a famine would occur probably in the middle to latter part of the summer if it were not for the ongoing intervention of the U.S. and the international community in providing food." If this effort doesn't succeed, says Parmer, by July or August, "you'd be looking at pictures of people that were starving to death."
Most of what the U.S. supplies will be wheat or wheat flour, from Department of Agriculture stockpiles.
So, while the cleanup goes on in Mozambique, planning is already underway to avert an even worse catastrophe.
USAID Administrator Anderson recalls how U.S. food helped stop a famine in southern Africa in 1993 and 1994. "Famine was avoided then," says Anderson, "and I know it can be now."
By Charles Wolfson.
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