Food: The Perennial Scarcity

Food: The Perennial Scarcity

Ethiopia: Seven Days Update (Addis Ababa)  March 23, 2000


 Addis Ababa - The week saw many agreements signed and pledges made to provide food aid to millions of drought-hit Ethiopians in different parts of the country. The media gave a good deal of attention to the crucial issue of food   shortages.


 The grim reality


  The private Amharic weekly Tobia (March 16) reported that opening a two-day symposium at the Ghion Hotel (March 10-11) on the theme "Food guarantees and security of life in Ethiopia", Dr. Mengistu Huluka, Acting Minister for Agriculture, declared that, according to studies conducted in 1995-97, 28 million Ethiopians in urban and rural areas live below the poverty line. He explained further that 52% of the rural population face food shortages and 36% of the urban population do not get even a fraction of their food needs.


 Talks of airlift


State media reported on March 16 that an official of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said that the first shipment of 85,000 tons of U.S. food aid for Ethiopians affected by drought would arrive at the Port of Djibouti about mid-April. The shipment is part of the 400,000 tons that the U.S. government has pledged for this year to help feed 8.1 million people. Speaking to reporters following a four-day working visit to areas worst hit by the latest drought. Hugh Parmer, USAID's Assistant Administrator for Humanitarian Response, also announced that he had instructed his people in Washington D.C. to immediately start preparations for an emergency airlift of 25 tons of high nutrition biscuits and special food items for distribution in the worst affected areas.


According to the thrice-weekly Monitor (March 18-19) and Reuters, Parmer said that he had seen distressing situations in eastern Ethiopia, the worst affected region. "The situation is serious enough, we could not wait. The Ethiopian government is providing food to the region, but there are so many people and the situation is deteriorating so rapidly," Parmer said. "In Gode town I was told that 45 children under the ages of five have died during the last two weeks due to malnutrition and related illnesses," he said.


 The Assistant Administrator also appealed to European nations to help. Parmer visited Gode and Kelafo in eastern Ethiopia, and North Wello, the epicenter of the 1984-85 famine in which over a million people are thought to have perished. But he said the situation could worsen if rains did not fall soon. The United States said on March 16 that drought was stalking Ethiopia again.


Obtaining and buying food


ETV (March 15) told its viewers that World Vision-Ethiopia (WVE) disclosed that it has obtained 10.6 million birr in aid from international aid organizations to be used to alleviate the problem of food shortages in Ethiopia. WVE General Manager Ato Getachew Wolde Michael told Walta Information center (WIC) that WVE has already started buying 38,710 quintals of food grain which would subsequently be distributed among people facing food shortages in Amhara, Oromiya, Tigrai and the Southern Peoples' states. According to Ato Getachew, other aid organizations have also pledged to provide 162,083 quintals of food grain starting next April.


Support from east and west


- The Governments of Ethiopia and Japan have signed a 7.3 U.S. dollar grant agreement. Ambassador Takeshisa Nogami said the grant would make a  significant contribution towards ensuring food security in Ethiopia. He indicated that the government of Japan has so far provided similar aid amounting to 100 million U.S. dollars. The Embassy of Japan and the Food for the Hungry International- Ethiopia also signed a grant contract amounting to 53,732 USD for the purchase of agricultural machinery and animal health facilities for farmers in   Cheha district of Garage Zone, Southern Region (State media, March 14)


-Ethiopia and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding providing for 15 million Canadian dollars (about 85 million birr) to be channeled for a three- year food-for-work program. Canada will provide the money to four Canadian NGOs and their Ethiopian partners for the purchase, shipment and distribution of approximately 28,000 metric tons of Canadian wheat. The grain will be provided by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (ETV, March 15).                                


- The Irish government has pledged to give 100,000 pounds in aid in response to the Ethiopian government's appeal for assistance to alleviate the problem of food  shortages in the country. According to the Irish Embassy in Addis Ababa, the Irish Foreign Minister has expressed concern over the failure of the rains in the last two years causing food shortages and threatening millions of people with famine. The Foreign Minister also said that Irish aid to Ethiopia during the year 2000 will amount to 16,184,000 pounds and that the program would focus on rural development to reduce the occurrence of food  shortages.


 - The Canadian Government has allocated a sum of 329.8 million birr for food security and to consolidate the basis of good governance in Ethiopia. Canadian Ambassador John Schram said that his government allocated 211 million birr to acquaint farmers with modern farming techniques, undertake terracing, execute more water supply projects and launch small-scale income-generating activities. Ambassador Schram also indicated that Canada has allocated 6.2 million Canadian dollars for the purchase of relief food for drought-hit people under the auspices of the Federal Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission, WFP and other non-governmental organizations (Radio Ethiopia, March 14).


The local effort


 ETV (March 13) reported that over 264,000 quintals of relief grain as well as supplementary food and edible oil have been distributed to 818,000 people affected by food shortages in East Hararge zone. The food was distributed to farmers in 15 districts. If belg rains fail, over 254,000 residents of 15 districts may be in need of food assistance for six months beginning April.


In southern Tigrai zone (Radio Ethiopia, March 12), one hundred service cooperatives in eight districts will buy food grains at reasonable price for drought-affected areas with the 3.1 million birr they have allocated. According to a representative of the cooperatives, the initiative is meant to prevent farmers who had good harvest this year from selling their produce at cheap prices and to provide drought-affected areas with reasonably priced grains.


State media (March 11) reported that the Oromiya state disaster prevention and preparedness bureau distributed over 675,000 quintals of relief food among 900.000 drought-affected people in various parts of the state in the past six months. The

state government has allocated over 1.4 million birr for areas hit hard by the drought.


Seven Days Update, a weekly summary of the Ethiopian press, is available by   subscription from Waag Communications