Act on drought, Ethiopia told

Act on drought, Ethiopia told

CNN-Dec 7, 2002

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- The Ethiopian government must do more to tackle the effects of recurrent drought that plunge the Horn of Africa nation into a food crisis every few years, the head of the U.N. children's fund said Friday.

Speaking on the eve of a government appeal for emergency food aid for 11.3 million people, Carol Bellamy said it was critical that the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi shift from dealing with food emergencies to a longer-term strategy that would tackle the root causes of the food shortages.

"Clearly, looking at things from not only an immediate crisis intervention, but longer term, is something the government has to come to terms with here," Bellamy told reporters after a trip to the country's drought-stricken northeastern Afar region.

"I think we would largely see this as rain-and crop-related, but the refrain I keep hearing from the bilateral donors is that you just can't keep coming every couple of years and say: 'We have another crisis now -- send money."'

Last month in London, Meles made an emotional appeal for emergency funds and food, saying that 15 million of Ethiopia's 65 million people were in high risk of famine.

The appeal that Meles is to launch Saturday will call for some U.S. $76 million in non-food items like water and health supplies as well as 1.5 million tons of food aid for next year. The number of people said to be in danger has been lowered to 11.3 million.

Bellamy said Ethiopia, one of the world's 10 poorest countries -- which spent millions of dollars on a two-and-a-half-year border war with neighbouring Eritrea -- has to look at improving irrigation and developing drought-resistant crops.

She said an estimated four million people need food assistance every year, and the numbers are rising.

"Why has that number been increasing? Is it just population growth, or are there some interventions that the government can engage in," she asked.

Throughout Africa this year, more than 30 million people are said to be in danger of malnutrition or starvation because of severe food shortage caused by drought, poor management and corruption.

Although Ethiopia hasn't placed any conditions on the kind of food aid it would accept, the government of Zambia has said it will not take genetically modified corn -- bred to be drought-and-insect resistant -- because it says it has not been proved safe for human consumption.

Bellamy dismissed that claim, saying there was no reason to fear GM grain.

"From our perspective, from a health perspective, GM food or non-GM food -- there is no difference whatsoever," she said.

If people are in desperate need, they should have the opportunity to have the food, she said.