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U.S. Team Deployed to Aid Ethiopia's Worst Drought in 50 Years

FROM FEB. 19, 2016: El Nino Threatens Millions in Ethiopia, as NBC News' Gabe Joselow Reports 1:34

The United States will deploy a team of some 20 experts to Ethiopia as part of an emergency response to the country's worst drought in 50 years.

More than 10 million people are at risk of hunger in the country, and more than 400,000 children facing acute malnutrition, as crops wither and livestock dies after the failure of two rainy seasons in a row.

The U.S. development agency USAID announced Thursday it would deploy the team to Ethiopia to provide technical support to the government and other agencies on the ground.

USAID Administrator Gayle Smith said: "We are challenging the world not just to respond to human suffering but to respond quickly enough to prevent something worse."

These specialist teams been sent out to help out in the world's biggest emergencies, including the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.

The U.N. says $1.4 billion in funding is needed for the emergency response in Ethiopia — making it the third-biggest humanitarian appeal after Syria and Yemen.

International donors, so far, have only provided about half that amount.

Flashback: Famine in Ethiopia 3:59

There is a risk food supplies will run out by the end of next month, Ethiopia's Disaster Management chief Mitiku Kassa told NBC News.

"The difficult stage will come after May 1," he said, "We have to have additional resources to respond to the 10.2 million beneficiaries."

While the drought brings to mind images of the "We Are the World" famine that killed hundreds of thousands in Ethiopia in the 1980s, the country is much is much better placed now to confront the crisis.

Ethiopia has experienced rapid economic development in the last 30 years and has invested heavily in development. The government has putting in $380 million of its own money in emergency aid.

There may be more hope on the horizon as the new rainy season is just beginning in Ethiopia. Though Mitiku says at this point it is too early to tell whether the rains will be sufficient.

The drought has been blamed on the intense El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific ocean. Its effect is being felt far beyond Ethiopia. Droughts across much of southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, Malawi and parts of South Africa are putting millions more at risk of hunger.

What Is El Niño and Why Should We Care? 0:42