Ethiopia + 8 more

U.S. Congress set to cut Africa emergency food aid

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WASHINGTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - African countries facing severe food shortages will get additional food aid from the United States, but less than half of what was originally sought in Congress and what aid groups say is needed.
The money for food aid was part of a $397 billion spending bill -- which will fund virtually every area of the U.S. government except the Pentagon -- set to be voted on Thursday by the House of Representatives and on Friday by the Senate.

The United States typically provides at least half of the food aid needed, and often much more, in foreign food emergencies.

As many as 40 million Africans are threatened with starvation because of drought, flooding and political upheavals. Food shortages that have plagued six southern African countries since last year have spread more recently to Ethiopia, Eritrea and other nations on the continent.

In January the Senate approved $500 million in emergency food assistance for Africa, $100 million less than leading Democrats had been seeking based on projected needs.

But during negotiations this week, the two chambers agreed to provide only $250 million in additional aid through September 2004.

"It will help save thousands of lives. We may have to go back for more'' money, said Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who pushed the funding through the Senate.

In December, the Washington-based Coalition for Food Aid estimated that $600 million to $778 million in additional funds would be needed for the United States to be provide half of the food aid required for Africa.

Ellen Levinson, executive director of the coalition, said that anything less than $500 million in additional funding for Africa would mean cutting food and other nutrition programs in Latin America and Africa.

The food aid money will be channeled to the government's PL-480 program, which provides for donations and shipping of U.S. agriculture commodities. Donations typically include basic foods such as grains.

Lawmakers were under heavy pressure from the White House to keep a lid on spending in this massive spending bill. But in the end, the bill's price tag rose more than $12 billion over the spending limit that President George W. Bush had originally demanded.

Much of the added money was sought by Bush for military operations in Afghanistan and U.S. intelligence programs.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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