Remarks by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Mr

Remarks by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Mr. Kenzo Oshima Launch of the“Appeal for Immediate Food Needs and Scenarios of Likely Emergency Needs in 2003”


October 07, 2002


Excellencies and Distinguished Guests,


 I have come to Ethiopia at the request of the Secretary-General, and in response to increasingly serious indications that the failure of rains this year has caused widespread suffering, particularly among the most vulnerable of this country. Accompanying me on my important mission are:  Mr. Holdbrook Arthur, the Regional Director for Central and East Africa of WFP; Mr. John Rook, Regional Food Security Expert of the EC, and Ms. Lauren Landis, Director of the Office of Food for Peace, USAID.


It is indeed a great honour to address the members of the humanitarian community in Ethiopia.  During my short visit, I have come to understand that a close synergy exists between the Government of Ethiopia, the United Nations Country Team, the NGO community and the Donors that work in Ethiopia. I therefore use the term “humanitarian community” in its broadest sense – encompassing all who contribute to lessening human suffering. Let me begin by congratulating you all for your efforts to work together to help those in need of our collective assistance.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Clearly, the early warning signs of a large-scale humanitarian crisis are already visible. We visited rural Ethiopia yesterday to observe the real situation on the ground. In villages of West Hararghe (Orimya Region) - one of the areas hardest-hit by erratic rains this year, and traditionally one of the best coffee producing and food surplus areas – it is obvious to anyone that there has been a massive crop failure. Looking down from the sky, and from a distance, you get the impression that the situation is not that bad because the landscape is not the parched, brown land so familiar in drought situations. Rather, it is a pleasant, beautiful light green. However, it does not take long to understand that this is deceptive. It is a green drought.    

Once you get a closer look, what you see is wilting maize, dying and stunted sorghum, and languishing coffee and other crops. The villagers already show the clear signs of malnourishment and hunger, particularly among the most vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly, who have already started to succumb to the destitution.


If you can imagine what the situation is going to look like a few weeks or months down the line, it is nothing but horrible. What we saw in West Hararghe yesterday is a tiny bit of what is also reality in the worst-affected areas from Afar in the north, to Oromiya and parts of Somali Region in the southeast, and the SNNPR in the southwest. 


Ladies and Gentlemen,


As you are well aware, over 6 million people are presently in need of urgent help.  The best available assessments suggest that more than 10 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance next year. These are indeed dreadful prospects, provoking memories of the terrible visions that were broadcast to the world from the Horn of Africa in the early



As we did in then, and have done since in response to drought, we must now pool our efforts to meet the humanitarian challenge. I would like to touch briefly upon three central aspects of the task at hand.


First, the need to act fast cannot be overemphasized.  We must move now to minimize the impact of the drought and to provide those in need with enough food, water, medicines and other essentials to weather these most difficult times. If the worst-case scenarios for 2003 become reality, late action will certainly not be adequate.  As you are aware, much time is needed to procure, transport, and distribute the required food and non-food aid to targeted groups. With this fact in mind, I call on our generous donor community to provide support for the humanitarian community’s interventions at the earliest possible moment. Let me express my gratitude for contributions already received. These have allowed us to being addressing the needs of the most vulnerable.


I would also like to express my admiration for the swift action taken by the Government and UN Country Team during the past months to provide the international community with early warning information on the developing drought. The Special Alert issued in July and the joint Government/UN appeal issued in late August have given us the forewarning needed to respond with the required interventions in time, while planning for the future.  The latest assessment results clearly confirm the validity of the early predictions. 


Second, we must recognize the need for a broad and multi-sectoral response to the crisis. We must strive to balance food-related interventions with complementary and equally important programs in areas such as water and sanitation, health, agriculture, and livestock.  It is common knowledge that lack of progress in any one of these critical sectors can undo much hard work and progress in others. I therefore urge donors and agencies to cooperate to obtain greater balance in funding and program support.


Third, and on a related subject, we must keep our eye on the greater goals of development and long-term food security as we help the people of Ethiopia to overcome the present crisis.  It is only through the wide-scale use of improved techniques for water management, agriculture, and animal husbandry that we can break the cycle of vulnerability and help those in need to obtain a sustainable and prosperous future. We must be careful not to seek immediate results in the humanitarian field while neglecting to build the longer-term foundation that will prevent future relapses and renewed suffering.


Equally, let us not become lost in perceived grey zones between relief, recovery and development, or similar conceptual constructs. Relief and development must proceed simultaneously, in a mutually reinforcing way. 


Lastly, on topic of longer-term development, we must strengthen our resolve to combat HIV/AIDS, as its proliferation will most certainly deplete Ethiopia’s most valuable asset: its people.


Ladies and Gentlemen,     Let me assure you that the UN family is fully committed to supporting the Government of Ethiopia’s response to the drought and the related food crisis. Senior Management within the UN’s humanitarian and development agencies has received the message that urgent action is required; there are no illusions in New York or Geneva as to the potential magnitude of the emergency in the Horn of Africa.


I can report that the situation in Ethiopia has been discussed within high-level coordination bodies such as the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA). Likewise, the broad membership of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and the NGO forum InterAction recently debated how best to coordinate the humanitarian response to the drought. I have personally provided the Secretary-General with regular updates on the unfolding situation. Consequently, there is no doubt that your efforts to raise awareness of the situation have born fruit.


We must nevertheless continue this dedicated advocacy work. Humanitarian needs in other parts of the continent and elsewhere place increasing pressure on limited donor resources and on our capacity to respond.  I recently returned from a tour of several southern African countries, in which a severe food crisis looms, affecting more than 14 million people. As you are well aware, food needs are also great in several areas affected by, or recovering from, war – including Angola, the DRC, and Sudan. With recent positive developments in the Sudan, which I visited just last week, we may soon be faced with new challenges that come with greater access to those in need.


With many simultaneous requirements on the African continent and elsewhere, I urge you to continue your efforts to raise awareness among Member States and to ensure that the world understands the humanitarian suffering that inaction will bring. OCHA stands ready to support this work.


Finally, I would like to recall that two years ago, famine was averted in the Horn of Africa thanks to fast and early action, effective response and good coordination. Nevertheless, overall success was muted by unfortunate suffering and death. We must learn from such past experiences and strive to do better. The document before us clearly outlines the challenge that we face.


Thank you.