updated 10/4/2004 2:38:28 PM ET 2004-10-04T18:38:28

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — At least 4 million Ethiopians would die each year without food aid, a British aid group said Monday, marking 20 years since a devastating famine killed more than half a million people in the impoverished country.

Now, foreign aid should focus on lifting this nation of 70 million out of poverty, rather than just keeping people alive with food handouts, the Save the Children aid group said.

“Millions of people in the historically famine-prone northeastern highlands are worse off and more vulnerable than ever,” said Mike Aaronson, head of the group.

Aaronson said “lack of political will” by world leaders and “paltry” aid have not helped the nation combat persistent food shortages — two decades after the 1984 Live Band hit song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” raised $10 million for starving Ethiopians.

The song raised awareness of a famine facing 8 million Ethiopians and spawned other projects, including the trans-Atlantic Live Aid rock extravaganza in 1985 which brought in more than $100 million.

Shortsighted approach
“It is shocking that 20 years after Band Aid millions of children still experience hunger,” Aaronson said. “Yet, in the last 20 years, donors have shown a lack of political will and a shortsighted approach to aid that has compounded poverty in Ethiopia.”

The criticism came on the eve of a visit by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is set to attend a meeting of a commission he set up to assess the economic, political and social crisis in Africa and develop policies to help the continent.

The Commission for Africa, which includes rock star and Band Aid founder Bob Geldof, meets for the second time on Thursday and Friday to discuss regional conflicts, aid, refugees, trade and corruption in the world’s poorest continent.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world with the average annual per capital income is $100.

Aaronson criticized attempts to solve the poverty in Ethiopia by food aid alone — which makes up half of the annual aid to the Horn of Africa nation.

Donor countries must inject more investments in education and health care in a bid to help the country break out of poverty, he said.

“A great deal of money has gone into keeping people alive with food aid,” Aaronson said. “However, in comparison, the sum invested in longer-term development to lift Ethiopia out of the cycle of poverty has been paltry.”

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