DENAN, Ethiopia - Two months
ago Ayan Abdi struggled to tell her newborn
twins apart. Tragically, she has no difficulty
The skin of her malnourished
son Nemo stretches tightly over his tiny
skeletal frame, while his sister Asma still
retains some of her rounded features. Ayan,
who earns $7 a month selling firewood, is
so weak from malnutrition herself she can
produce only enough breast milk to feed
Millions are at risk of famine in eastern
Africa after a potentially devastating drought
wiped out this year's crop. Aid organizations
warn that unless urgent supplies of food,
water and medicine are delivered to the
region, more people could die than perished
in the drought of 2000 - which killed nearly
100,000 in Ethiopia alone.
"People will die because
we are already too late with our help,"
said Abdullahi Ali Haji, the government's
health officer for this area of eastern
Ethiopia. "This is our warning that
without immediate help a famine will soon
show those affected by the drought include
an estimated 3.5 million in Kenya, 1.75
million in Ethiopia, 1.4 million in Somalia
and 60,000 in Djibouti.
Poor rains over the last
nine years have left many families living
on a knife's edge. This year the rains failed
completely. Food prices are up as much as
50 percent, while the value of prized livestock
has plummeted, hitting hard the nomads who
rely on cattle, sheep, goats and camels
for food and income.
The warning signs of famine
appear long before it takes hold in this
corner of Ethiopia, about 870 miles southeast
of the capital, Addis Ababa. The bones and
rotting carcasses of cattle mark the landscape.
Children, whose immunity systems are hopelessly
compromised by insufficient nutrition, are
beginning to fall sick.
The handful of malnourished children that
used to be brought to Haji's hospital in
Gode, about 50 miles southwest of Denan,
has now turned into steady trickle.
The two doctors assigned
to cover 1 million people in the region
are totally overwhelmed. They have just
a handful of drugs to combat widespread
measles and diarrhea from drinking dirty
"As ever, women and children will bear
the brunt of this disaster," said Bjorn
Ljungqvist, the U.N's Children's Fund Country
Aid agencies do not have
money to buy food from districts with surplus
harvests to feed those hit by the food shortages,
said Peter Smerdon, spokesman for the World
"WFP is short $44 million now to feed
1.1 million people because of the drought,"
Smerdon said in Kenya on Tuesday. "Without
new donations, WFP will run out of food
to distribute in drought affected areas
by the end of February."
Efforts to help the region's
hungry have also been troubled by a low-level
conflict between the Ethiopian army and
separatist rebels in the area. In recent
months, trucks carrying food aid have been
attacked and, in some cases, burned.
Violent clan disputes, a
spillover from the feuding warlords in neighboring
Somalia, have deterred aid workers and the
U.N. from entering the region.
"We have received nothing,"
said Aden Abdi, who has nine hungry mouths
to feed in the wind-blown town of Kelafo.
Water wells are empty and the nearby Wabe
Shebelle River, which at this time of year
can be as much as 65 feet wide, is now easily
traversed by foot.
"We have been forgotten,"
the oval-faced woman sighed, sitting outside
her one-room stick shack where her family
struggles to survive on $8 a month. "No
one cares if we live or die, as long as
they don't see."
In Kenya, however, British International
Development Secretary Hilary Benn met President
Mwai Kibaki on Tuesday and pledged $5.3
million to help alleviate the crisis, according
to a statement released by the president's
One-third of the money will
go to dealing with food shortages and the
remaining two-thirds will go to providing
water in drought-stricken areas, the statement
In Ethiopia, one aid group
has been working on a project to help cattle
herders develop ways of coping with drought
in the region.
The project, developed by
the U.S.-based aid agency CARE with funding
from the U.S. Agency for International Development,
will help cattle herders negotiate access
to land when a crisis develops, provide
a market so they can sell part of their
herds and supply emergency food and water.
"We hopefully are going
to get away from these emergency responses
in the region," said Carey Farley,
a program manager for CARE, from the Kenyan
capital of Nairobi.
Associated Press Writer Chris Tomlinson
contributed to this report from Nairobi,
Source: Associated Press, Jan. 18, 2006