Ethiopia says 4.5 million people need food aid

By the Associated Press | July 11, 2011 | 7:59 AM EDT

Two-year-old, Aden Salaad, looks up toward his mother, unseen, as she bathes him in a tub at a Doctors Without Borders hospital, where Aden is receiving treatment for malnutrition, in Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya, Monday, July 11, 2011. U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres said Sunday that drought-ridden Somalia is the "worst humanitarian disaster" in the world, after meeting with refugees who endured unspeakable hardship to reach the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — A government official says an estimated 4.5 million Ethiopians are in need of food assistance, an increase of 40 percent.

Ethiopia's state minister of agriculture, Mitiku Kassa, said Monday that nearly $400 million is needed to fill the country's food gap. He says Ethiopia needs to distribute 380 metric tons of food.

A drought centered in the triangle where Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet has sent tens of thousands of people pouring into refugee camps in search of food.

Jason Frasier, the director of the U.S. government aid mission in Ethiopia, said U.S. officials are concerned that the severity of the drought is being underestimated.