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UPDATE/The African famine

Don't relax. You've listened to Live Aid rock. You've given more money. But theAfrican famine is even more complex and urgent this week. Immediate need: Trucks, trucks, and more trucks, fuel, tires, spare parts, locomotives and boxcars, to get food from ports to people before seasonal rain cuts roads and railroads.

Ethiopia: United Nations officials say 275 long-haul trucks needed in Ethiopia alone, with 100 semitrailers, 37,000 tires for heavy trucks, 5,000 tires for light trucks, 15 four-wheel-drive trucks to help move grain at port of Assab on the Red Sea, 30 platform trailers for Assab, three stacking machines, and 800 pallets.

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Plenty of opportunity for Live Aid donations there.

Sudan: Vital 900-mile Kosti-Nyala railroad in the west now washed out in nine places by heavy rains. Repairs will take weeks. Road bridge to Geneina on Chad border knocked out.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) is trying to repair the northern truck route to Nyala. United States government is spending $8 million to buy 10 locomotives scheduled for delivery by Sept. 1. The US is leasing trucks from Kuwait for 60 days at a cost of $3.2 million.

Current loss of Kosti railroad hitting 3 million hungry people in western Sudan. Minimum need: 1,200 tons a day. Railroad was carrying 900 tons a day. No grain has reached 450,000 starving people in northern Darfur in northwest Sudan since June 22.

Desperate private efforts in London to organize more truck convoys. European Community airlift continues but has only five planes.

Save the Children (UK): This relief agency has received money from Britain's government for 60 light trucks which are now in Port Sudan being assembled. It has also collected 2 million ($2.7 million) for additional trucks: forty 70-tonners and twenty 40-tonners.

Sahel region: Rain in south and the center but not in the north.

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Mauritania: 800,000 people depend on aid.

Burkina Faso: government distributing grain from local warehouses.

Angola: 24 trucks urgently needed. Angolan civil war forced Red Cross to close nine feeding centers.

Live Aid's promoter Bob Geldof: He's in touch with Save The Children and Oxfam. Both need money to offset truck and fuel costs.

Mr. Geldof is on the right track by concentrating on road and rail transport, aid experts agree.

Rain: Falling more heavily, widely across Horn of Africa and Sahel region. More people isolated, hoping to hang on somehow until harvests in fall.

Lack of seeds for planting is a major worry in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Sudan. Families have eaten seed reserves, so harvests will be smaller -- how much smaller is not known.

Grain storage: Grain mountains in Port Sudan, Assab, Lagos, and elsewhere are a growing concern. Almost 420,000 tons stuck in Port Sudan alone.

WFP is urging donors to provide more money for grain storage to keep off sun, rain.

Polystyrene bags crack and split in sun. Tropical rains spoiled 5,000 tons in Assab alone in April.

Grain lasts longer under cover. ``Storage in effect would give us strategic grain reserves -- a great opportunity if we can seize it,'' say WFP officials.

New worry: If grain mountains are still high when harvests come, they will push down local grain prices. More storage would allow grain aid to be stored longer, distributed more slowly. This column, keeping readers abreast of the famine and relief efforts, will appear most Fridays.

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