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Ethiopia, Kenya better 'prepared' for food crisis: IFRC
by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) Aug 26, 2011

The Ethiopian-born secretary-general of the Red Cross said his native country is better "prepared" to handle Africa's worst drought in decades than it was when millions died of starvation in the 1980s.

"Twenty years ago, it was terrible," recalled Bekele Geleta, secretary-general of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, who was working for the Geneva-based humanitarian group then.

Now, he said in an interview with reporters, "governments are much more responsive ... much better prepared".

The United Nations said Friday that it was still one billion dollars (690 million euros) short of the 2.4 billion dollars that is needed to provide food and other aid to 12.5 million people in the Horn of Africa, where tens of thousands have already died.

On Thursday African countries and donors pledged more than $350 million at a fund-raiser in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Geleta said the governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Kenya now do "timely assessments and appeals" for outside humanitarian aid rather than wait until the situation is dire, like in 1984 when a famine hit Ethiopia, killing some one million people.

"I remember, I was there," he said. "Today in Ethiopia, yes, there is a shortage of food, there is serious malnutrition. But the death level is comparatively much, much lower."

Five regions in Somalia are suffering from famine, according to the UN, but hunger is also widespread in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti.

Another difference between then and now is that "governments have managed to have social safety net programmes" such as food-for-work assistance, Geleta said.

"The right things are getting done," he said.

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