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By Tsegaye Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia appealed on Thursday for 159,410 tonnes of emergency aid to feed 6.2 million people, 25 years after more than a million perished in the country's notorious famine.
Aid workers say a five-year drought is afflicting more than 23 million people in seven east African nations.
Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia's State Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, said this year's rains were especially poor.
"As a result, the number of people needing emergency assistance during the period October-December 2009 has increased to 6.2 million from 4.9 million at beginning of the year," he said.
Ethiopia has a population of 83 million.
He appealed for 159,410 tonnes of food worth $121 million (73 million pounds), 11 tonnes of fortified blended food for malnourished children and women worth $8.9 million, and $45 million in non-food needs.
U.N. humanitarian coordinator Fidelle Sarassaro urged the Ethiopian government to ensure free access to aid workers to the war-torn eastern Somali region.
"Access has been a challenge for the non-food sector and needs to be addressed. The subject has been under consultation with the government at all levels," he said.
Also on Thursday, aid agency Oxfam called for an end to what it called "knee-jerk" reactions to food crises that focussed on sending food aid. While food did save lives, it failed to offer longer-term solutions.
Oxfam said communities at risk should be helped to prevent and deal with disasters like drought before they strike, rather than relying mostly on short-term emergency relief supplies.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis)