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12 December 2008

Famine: 20 million at risk

More than 20 million people in the Horn of Africa are at risk of famine due to drought and high food and fuel prices, the world's largest disaster relief network said.

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More than 20 million people in the Horn of Africa are at risk of famine due to drought and high food and fuel prices, the world's largest disaster relief network said on Thursday, topping the UN figure by 3 million.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the United Nations estimate of 17 million people in urgent need of food was too low as it failed to take full account of the hungry in Eritrea and Djibouti.

"We think that (UN) figure is a severe underestimation of the reality... We believe it is more than 20 million and that still excludes Sudan," said Roger Bracke, a senior Federation official who led a two-month study into the crisis.

Lives depend on rain
The situation was not yet one of major famine in the region, where the survival of many humans and livestock would depend to a large extent on the coming rainy season, he told a briefing.

"But if we listen well, we hear the rumble of skeletons in the back - they might easily come back if we don't manage to control this crisis," said Bracke.

Food, fuel prices debilitating
Wheat and sorghum prices had doubled in the Horn of Africa in the past year, leading to shortages and forcing governments to draw down their strategic grain reserves, he said.

High oil prices have also meant farmers have to pay more for fertilisers and pesticides and to transport their crops.

The Federation launched an appeal on Thursday for 113 million Swiss francs (close to R100 million) to help meet the needs of 2.2 million people in Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia over the next five years.

Eritrea - where the Federation says at least 2.5 million people are at risk - is not included in its appeal as the government says it is able to cover needs, according to Bracke.

Crisis due to global events
The majority of nomadic herders in the Horn of Africa have lost an average of at least 70% of their livestock and some have lost all, according to the agency.

"It's probably the first time in history and definitely in the Horn of Africa that we see a crisis of this magnitude which cannot be explained by natural factors, but by global mechanisms and the impact of global events," Bracke said.

"These people cannot be blamed this time," he added. – (Reuters Health)

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Great disasters of the last century
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December 2008

 
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