Getting the Food Out: The Big Challenge Emerges
Addis Tribune (05/19/00)- By Our Staff Reporter
The full enormity of the job required to get the food out to the hungry people in Ethiopia is now emerging.
Despite the war, the port is crowded with food grain which is being unloaded as a priority in Djibouti. Trucks have been
commandeered all over the country to assist with the monumental task of moving the food.
Figures just released by the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC), indicate just how large the job is
going to be. Although over 700,000 metric tons of food has been pledged by donors and the Ethiopian government, only an
estimated 170,000 tons will be distributed to local areas before the end of June.
Even this is a massive undertaking, requiring the combined efforts of the government, UN agencies and NGOs. It is quite
possible that even this target, which is modest compared to the needs, will not be met.
The critical problem is that food should be pre-positioned as soon as possible in these remote areas, not only to meet
immediate needs, but also so that food is available when areas are cut off by the expected heavy rains starting in July.
This target will not be met.
By the end of April, food distribution was already an astounding 135,000 metric tons short of the identified needs. Put another
way, food delivery has already fallen behind by almost 10,000,000 monthly rations of 12.5 to 15 kg per month since January.
This means an average of 2,500,000 people per month are not receiving their food aid needs.
In May and June there is another jump in the number of people needing the food, so even the increased amount being delivered
is short by about 70,000 metric tons, continuing to leave out 2,500,000 people who need food assistance.
If, as expected, heavy rains make the delivery of food aid even more difficult in July to September, millions more will be left out
of food distribution.
In the worst case scenario, these millions will be forced to abandon their fields during the growing season to migrate for food,
many of them dying along the way.
There is still hope that a concerted effort, and sufficient breaks in the rain, will allow the food to be delivered in the minimum
needed amounts through the rainy season.
Last year Ethiopia faced a similar crisis on a smaller scale. At that time, Addis Tribune pointed out that there were three
lessons that needed to be learnt to avoid a reoccurrence.
The first lesson was that a credible and agreed number of beneficiaries had to be identified early enough for a response. The
DPPC accomplished that this year by January 15th, which left plenty of time for donors.
The second lesson was that the farmers dependent on the small rains, the ‘Belg’ should be fed early enough and in sufficient
quantity to prevent them from starving and migrating, a problem which had emerged by March 1999. This year the DPPC and
NGOs provided food to the ‘Belg’ dependent farmers from January or earlier, preventing the same crisis which occurred last
The third lesson was that donors had to respond quickly and in sufficient quantity to the food aid appeal so that the food could
be landed and distributed before the heavy rains. This lesson was not learned. The donors responded late. Even worse, the
Emergency Food Security Reserve, which could have covered the gap from their normal planned level of 300,000 metric tons,
had been allowed to run down to almost empty.
There is a crisis now because of this late response. Many people may still die as a result.