April 10, 2000 (7:45 pm local time)
The Ethiopian Government has learned from media sources that the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, in the April 9 edition of The Sunday Times of London, made remarks regarding the current drought emergency in Ethiopia and the conflict with Eritrea.
It was reported that Mr. Annan declared that the response of the international community to the emergency was adequate and that enough food supplies were in the country.
The Secretary General also reportedly stated that the problem was essentially one of distribution: that the country was large, the terrain difficult, and that the government could have done a better job of distribution as food was not properly distributed.
Furthermore, Mr. Annan was quoted to have said that the border war with Eritrea had closed many access routes to the afflicted areas, particularly southeastern Ethiopia, and that the port of Massawa could not be used by the World Food Program as desired.
The Ethiopian Government has high regard for Secretary General Kofi Annan and is profoundly surprised by the remarks attributed to him. If it is indeed true that Mr. Annan expressed these views, the Ethiopian Government would prefer to believe that this is due to lack of adequate information.
The true facts are the following:
1. The international community certainly did not respond adequately to Ethiopia's numerous appeals, and this can be ascertained from the concerned international agencies themselves. It is to be recalled that in view of the fact that the drought was worsening over the past few years, the Ethiopian Government publicly and energetically appealed for food aid.
In December 1998 and in the following month, Ethiopia issued an appeal covering the needs for the year 1999.
Again in November 1999, Ethiopia issued an advance warning and then in January 2000, sent out an appeal for the year 2000.
It can therefore be clearly seen that the shortage of grain in the country is not due to lack of appeals from the Ethiopian side. The causes have to be found elsewhere.
It also cannot be forgotten that Ethiopia's food reserves, which were built up since 1994/1995 and which had reached some 315,500 tons, were depleted by borrowing from the donor countries and agencies themselves.
In this regard:
· The World Food Programme borrowed 99,776.50 metric tons of grain
· The United States Agency for International Development borrowed 93,517.06 metric tons
· The European Union borrowed 80,867.65 metric tons
· The Netherlands borrowed 15,000.00 metric tons.
· Canada borrowed 385.47 metric tons
· Germany borrowed 17.00 metric tons
In short, a total of 292,449.54 metric tons of grain was borrowed from the food reserve.
Despite regular reminders, none of the borrowed grain was replenished.
Faced with this situation, the Ethiopian Government had to act quickly. It took its responsibilities in hand, and in order to avoid a further deterioration of the situation, purchased 100,000 tons of grain locally for current distribution to the needy population.
As far as the international community is concerned, it is true that very recently some confirmed, written pledges have begun to be made in response to Ethiopia's persistent appeals.
While the US pledged 214,690 metric tons in March 2000, Canada pledged 9,000 metric tons this month and the UK pledged 6,240 metric tons in February of this year. Except from what has been reported in the media, no official pledges have been registered from the European Union.
Despite the many appeals, what has arrived in the port of Djibouti just last week is 30,000 metric tons of grain from the World Food Program and this shipment is currently being transported into the country.
These are the facts. The statement that there was an adequate response from the international community is simply not true.
2. As regards the charge that the real problem is one of distribution and lack of access, it should be clear to all concerned that it is only when grain is available that it can be distributed. There is no evidence to even suggest that difficult terrain and the lack of access to some ports have been causes of the famine.
Moreover, anyone familiar with the geography of the country and region cannot lose sight of the fact that the Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab have no relevance to the areas currently hardest hit by the drought, namely, the southeastern part of the country. The closest ports to this most badly affected region are the ports of Djibouti and Berbera. The fact that Berbera is ignored while much is said about Massawa and Assab casts doubt as to whether the real agenda is the relief operation.
If such is the case, it cannot be forgotten that in May 1998 over 70,000 tons of grain, destined for Ethiopia, from the United States, Canada and the World Food Program was looted by the Eritrean regime. To date, the Eritrean regime, which is alien to the rule of law, has not been held publicly accountable for this theft. Under the circumstances, suggestions to use Eritrean ports can only make Ethiopia doubly doubtful regarding the intentions of those who champion the issue.
It is not the desire of the Ethiopian Government in the face of the emergency to dwell over who did what over the past two to three years. What is urgent is to ensure that adequate assistance is secured and received by those who need it. This is the objective that the international community, too, should direct itself towards. Efforts to create a linkage between the consequences of the drought with other political objectives can only result in negative consequences.
3. Finally, as for what Mr. Annan is reported to have said in connection with African leadership, Ethiopia does not wish to respond in view of the esteemed regard Ethiopia has towards the Secretary General.
Issued by the FDRE Office of Government Spokesperson on 10/04/00