updated 6/3/2008 5:45:10 PM ET 2008-06-03T21:45:10

Around 4.5 million Ethiopians need emergency food aid — 1 million more than a previous estimate, a government official said Tuesday.

Ethiopia is struggling through a crisis brought on by a countrywide drought and skyrocketing global food prices. The U.N. food agency has said that up to 3.4 million Ethiopians will need emergency food aid.

But Ethiopia's top disaster response official, Simon Mechale, said the government's most recent studies showed about 4.5 million people need the aid.

The situation, however, is "under control," Simon told journalists, adding that Ethiopia's food shortage will be resolved within four months. He did not elaborate.

Simon also disputed U.N. estimates that show 126,000 Ethiopian children are suffering from severe malnutrition; he said the number is slightly more than half of that, or 75,000.

The U.N. children's agency has characterized this year's food shortages as "the worst since the major humanitarian crisis of 2003."

In 2003, droughts led 13.2 million people to seek emergency food aid. Drought is especially disastrous in Ethiopia because more than 80 percent of people live off the land, and agriculture drives the economy, accounting for half of all domestic production and 85 percent of exports.

Bjorn Ljungqvist, the head of the agency in Ethiopia, says, however, the country's health system has improved in rural areas since 2003, making it easier for people to get medical care and officials to deal with emergencies.

Ljungqvist said that with more funding and other support the current food shortage can be contained.

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