April 26, 2000 (11:05 am local time)
In an effort to reduce Ethiopia's susceptibility to drought-induced famine, the current government has instituted various policies and measures to promote increased agricultural productivity and food security. These policies are part of the government's larger sustainable development objective. In fact, from the time the current government took power in 1991 until Eritrea's invasion in 1998, the Ethiopian government single-mindedly pursued its development agenda. After the fall of the Derg regime, defense spending was drastically cut and resources were instead spent on education, infrastructure, agriculture, health and other social and economic programs. As a result, Ethiopia was making great progress in various social and economic sectors
and the country's annual GDP grew at an average rate of 6.5 percent from 1992-1996 and the GDP registered a robust 5.6 percent growth in 1996-1997.
In short, after the Derg's long and destructive war, the Ethiopian people were beginning to experience an enormous peace dividend. Thus, when Eritrea invaded Ethiopia's sovereign territory in May 1998, despite its internationally recognized right of self-defense, Ethiopia expressed its preference for a peaceful resolution of the conflict because, as Prime Minister Meles pointed out shortly after Eritrea's invasion, "Every day of peace brings with it a benefit in development terms." Because of Eritrea's aggression and intransigence, the Ethiopian government must now attempt to simultaneously protect the country's sovereignty and promote the country's development.
Given that agriculture is the mainstay of the Ethiopian economy, the country has chosen an agricultural-led economic strategy, known as Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI), as the base for Ethiopia's overall development. The ADLI approach aims to take full advantage of Ethiopia's massive agricultural and industrial potential while ensuring that the country
will be less prey, in the long term, to adverse weather conditions, such as low rainfall and the resultant drought. A major objective of ADLI is to increase the productivity of small farmers and thereby improve food security in both rural and urban areas. Within the ADLI framework, the government initiated a five-year agricultural development program. Specific policies have been introduced to provide technical and institutional support to farmers, including fertilizer supply and distribution, improved seed supply and distribution, development of small-scale irrigation, conservation of natural resources and the environment, and extension work.
While these policies and programs have been largely successful, as demonstrated by the fact that Ethiopia actually exported surplus food in 1997, the government recognizes that until the country achieves food security, which is a long-term project, the Ethiopian people will remain vulnerable to natural disasters, such as drought. Thus, in addition to pursuing Agricultural Development Led Industrialization, the Ethiopian government also established the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC), a famine early warning system and an Emergency Food Security Reserve.
Thanks to the early warning system, Ethiopia realized as early as 1998 that portions of its population would be in need of food aid as a consequence of drought. Thus, in December 1998 and January 1999, DPPC issued an appeal to cover its food needs for the year 1999. In October of that year, the DPPC, aware that the September-November short rains would be poor in Somali Region and Borena Zone, started sending food from Ethiopia's reserves to those affected areas. The following month, the commission launched a "bridging appeal," which was intended to mobilize resources for the first three months of 2000. Although the international community endorsed the appeal, their response did not reflect their own estimates of the amount of assistance required.
Following the bridging appeal, an assessment of the fall harvest, as well as the food situation in the nomadic areas, was undertaken by donors, NGOs, UN agencies and the DPPC in December 1999. The various organizations jointly concluded that approximately eight million Ethiopians would need food relief in the year 2000. Thus, when the DPPC issued its appeal in
January to cover the needs for 2000, it was essentially a collective declaration. Nonetheless, despite agreement on Ethiopia's food needs, the international community was slow to pledge assistance.
Lack of sufficient pledges early on was exacerbated by the failure of donor countries and international agencies to replenish grain which they had previously borrowed from Ethiopia's food reserves. Out of a total of 315,500 metric tons of grain, 292, 449.54 metric tons was borrowed—and never repaid--by the WFP, USAID, EU, the Netherlands, Canada and Germany. Faced with this food shortage, the Ethiopian government quickly purchased 100,000 tons of grain locally and began distribution.
Due to the DPPC's efficient transport bidding process, once food is made available for distribution, it can be en route to the targeted population within just three days. First, whenever there is a consignment of food to be transported, the DPPC invites all potential transporters to come the following day with their quotations. At that time, tender documents are opened and winners are declared on the spot. On the third day, the uplifting starts without waiting for contracts to be signed. There are no advance payments for relief transport and, if necessary, DPPC can bypass the bidding process.
From January to March 2000, the DPPC transported and distributed 101,000 metric tons of food. An additional 102,419 metric tons of food is currently being transported for consumption next month. Of that amount, 20,000 tons are earmarked for Somali region, in which the DPPC is transporting food to over 150 distribution points in thirty-two woredas of seven of the nine zones of the region. In addition, preparations have been made to open as many feeding centres as the situation requires and DPPC has also strengthened its food distribution points with additional staff. In sharp contrast, a limited number of NGOs are only first now about to begin operations in areas other than Gode town.
To deflect attention away from their slow response to the crisis, some sectors of the international community have attempted to link the food crisis with the current conflict with Eritrea. The crisis, however, far from being a consequence of the war, is a direct result of three years of drought, which led to repeated crop failures and the widespread death of livestock, on which nomadic herders depend for their livelihood. Yet, some critics insist on making a linkage, arguing that war is hindering the distribution of food because Assab port is not being used to bring in relief supplies. But, as even logistics experts with UN agencies and NGOs involved in the relief effort concede, the ports of Djibouti and Berbera are capable of handling the expected aid and thus far there have been no port-related problems. Moreover, because the Port of Assab has been virtually stagnant since 1998, the port facilities would have to undergo at least two months of work before they were once again operational. Meanwhile, food relief is already arriving at Djibouti Port.
Thus, while it was a clever public relations gimmick on Eritrea's part to agree "in principle" to allow the use of Assab Port to bring in humanitarian supplies, it is illogical for others to make such a request. Not only is the use f the Eritrean port not necessary, but at the moment, use of Assab is not even possible. In short, as far as the relief operation is concerned, the problem is not one of distribution, but lack of adequate contributions.
Just as it does not make sense to connect the war with a lack of rain, which is the root cause of the present food crisis, it is also unfair to ask Ethiopia to choose between defending its sovereignty and feeding its people. One objective cannot be sacrificed for the other. Thus, the Ethiopian government is pursuing both priorities with equal vigor. Ethiopia is eager to end the
conflict with Eritrea so that it can once again pursue its development agenda without distraction. Toward this end, the Ethiopian government has been trying for nearly two years to resolve the conflict peacefully.
While the current government is committed to both protecting the country's sovereignty and feeding its people, the previous regimes of Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam not only failed to prevent famine, but they also attempted to prevent the international community from helping the Ethiopian people by hiding the catastrophe from the world. When international assistance finally did arrive, (thanks to courageous members of the media who broke the story in 1984), the Mengistu government stole some of the humanitarian aid, diverted the supplies to its army and used them to fuel its war against innocent Ethiopians.
In sharp contrast, the current Ethiopian government has shown its resolve to alleviate the suffering of the Ethiopian people and avert a catastrophe, as many donors and international NGOs have pointed out. Not only has the government instituted preventative measures, such as the establishment of the famine early warning system and national food reserve, but, since last
year, it has also been appealing for international assistance on behalf of the Ethiopian people. In addition, the DPPC has been transporting and distributing food from the country's emergency reserve for several months. And if the international community comes through with their recent pledges of assistance (some of which has already begun to arrive at Djibouti Port), disaster can and will be averted.