US gives a further S$124m in food aid to drought-hit Ethiopia

A picture taken on June 9, 2017, in Wender shows a child carrying a bag in a displaced persons camp due to Ethiopia's drought. PHOTO: AFP

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The United States will give a further US$91 million (S$123.64 million) in food aid to Ethiopia to avert famine in the south-east, US aid chief Mark Green said on Thursday (Aug 31), as he urged the government to open up political dialogue to all sides after deadly protests last year.

The funding raises to US$450 million the amount given by the United States to tackle the drought in Ethiopia, one of six countries affected.

The extra US$91 million in humanitarian aid "will provide additional emergency food assistance and vital medical care" for Ethiopians, Green said after a meeting with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in the capital Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian government and humanitarian groups warned in June the country would run out of food aid for 7.8 million people hit by severe drought, which has also affected Kenya, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.

Green said he had also urged the government to take steps to create a "political space" to allow opponents a voice after last year's protests in which hundreds of people were killed, and to uphold constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The protests, initially triggered by a land row, highlighted tensions in the country where the government has delivered strong economic growth but faces criticism from opponents and rights groups that it has reduced political freedoms.

Human rights groups have accused the government of arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions to silence its opponents.

Ethiopia, which is still associated with a devastating famine in the 1980s, was hit by severe drought in the northern highland region last year. With the help of foreign food aid and government funds, a famine was avoided.

The drought is now affecting Ethiopia's lowlands bordering Somalia where rains are late and herders have lost livestock, prompting international concern of famine in the south.

Ethiopia's government allocated US$272 million extra in 2015 and a further US$109 million last year from its own coffers to deal with the drought. Green urged it to do the same to tackle the drought in the south-east.

"The US will continue to provide assistance to vulnerable people, but we all agree that host country partners must also be willing to step up during crises and the prime minister indicated he was looking to do so," Green said.

Under pressure from proposed steep cuts to the USAID budget, Green has reassured countries on his Africa trip, which also included Sudan, that the United States would continue to provide humanitarian assistance during crises.

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