CAIRO (Reuters) - Europe is making urgent plans for emergency food shipments to the famine-stricken Horn of Africa but war between Eritrea and Ethiopia will hamper logistics, EU Commissioner for Development Poul Nielsen said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Africa-Europe summit in Cairo, Nielsen said he had discussed the looming food crisis with the presidents of Eritrea and Djibouti and the foreign minister of Ethiopia.
Nielsen said the European Union and other donors planned to send some 800,000 tonnes of food aid to Ethiopia. ''We are getting organized and we see this (famine) as a big threat coming,'' he told a news conference.
The United Nations on Monday warned that up to 16 million people in northeast Africa were threatened by starvation after poor rains, successive crop failures and population displacement due partly to armed conflicts in the region.
''Everybody is following this situation with very great concern...If we now can plan in a reasonably professional way actually to move 800,000 tonnes, that's a good start,'' Nielsen said.
''This issue was already on our daily agenda before the summit but I have used this opportunity to discuss directly with the countries involved. We are also dealing with Djibouti in order to make possible the big logistic operation,'' he added.
Because of war, delivery on shore would probably be restricted to the port of Djibouti, making actual delivery a much greater problem than obtaining emergency food.
''If we had peace and normal relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea, then the harbor of Masawa would also be available and the problem more manageable,'' Nielsen said.
''We have people from the European Commission on site in the Horn of Africa today trying to assess the situation,'' the commissioner said. ''It is indeed a major operation.''
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome warned on Monday that parts of southeastern Ethiopia, northern Kenya and several parts of Somalia were experiencing grave food shortages.
''The threat of starvation is severe in parts of eastern Africa with nearly 16 million people in need of emergency food assistance,'' the FAO said in a report.
Hardest hit was Ethiopia, where more than eight million people are at risk of famine this year, while in Kenya nearly 2.7 million people are facing severe food shortages, FAO said.
''Only a massive international effort in the coming months in support of the affected populations can avert further human suffering and loss of life,'' the U.N agency added.
As well as drought, armed conflicts were disrupting food production and distribution and driving people off the land, the FAO said, highlighting the urgent need for peace and conflict prevention which EU leaders at the Cairo summit are stressing.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet