World must not forget about Ethiopia's food crisis: former Olympic champion

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of Ethiopians in the grip of a severe hunger crisis are at risk of being forgotten by the international community and urgently need more aid to help them recover, former Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie said on Monday.

Despite recent rains, Ethiopia is still reeling from its worst drought in 50 years, and 10.2 million people - one-tenth of the population - need food aid, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP).

“There’s a huge emergency here in Ethiopia and the world is at risk of forgetting what’s happening,” the long-distance runner said in a statement.

“Families are in desperate need of food as crops have been destroyed (and) livestock has been killed.”

The Ethiopian world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist joined international aid agency ActionAid in calling for more funds to tackle the food crisis.

The country’s economy has grown rapidly for more than a decade, helping the government put in place agriculture, health and social programs to build resilience against lean periods.

But the scale of this drought, caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, is even overwhelming those measures.

“My home country has taken enormous steps forward in recent years ... But people here have been suffering for several months now, particularly young children and pregnant mothers,” he said.

“The world needs to take action now and provide funds to avert widespread suffering, death and disease,” said Gebrselassie.

The rains, which began in March, have brought some respite to the Horn of Africa nation.

Families ate more vegetables and milk and skipped fewer meals in May and June compared with previous months, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

Across Africa, Asia and the Americas, some 60 million people in 22 countries have been affected by El Nino, according to OCHA.

The agency said in June it needed another $2.5 billion in funding to help them.

El Nino was declared over in May but its damaging effects will be felt for months, experts say.