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Famine threat to 15m: Ethiopia PM

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Ethiopia is facing a famine that could affect as many as 15 million people, the country's prime minister has warned.

Meles Zenawi called for urgent international aid to help avoid a catastrophe on a scale that would dwarf the country's 1984-85 famine.

He told the BBC's Today programme: "The disaster we had in 84-85, the number involved was roughly one-third to one-half of the number of people involved now. If that was a nightmare, this will be too ghastly to contemplate."

Ethiopia needed huge amounts of food aid from international donors to avoid another famine.

"Even if we had the food available in the domestic market the government doesn't have the money to buy this surplus food for redistribution," Mr Zenawi said.

"The current draught is unique because the short rains and the long rains have failed.

"The latest information we have is that the number of affected people could

be as high as 15 million."

Christian Aid spokesman Andrew Pendleton said part of the problem was Ethiopia's commitment to repaying international debts.

"Ten percent plus of the Ethiopian government's revenues are spent on repaying international debts.

"That is an enormous amount of money to take away from a country that is critically poor.

"In the long term we have to take a look at why this keeps happening again and again. Now we have to respond to the immediate problem."

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