The Priority Is to Save Life
Addis Tribune (04/14/00)
Once more the world's attention is focused on the famine situation in Ethiopia. The world has learned that the situation in the
Somali Region is alarming. Reports coming from that area indicate that people are dying almost daily and that the livestock are
littering the scorched earth with their carcasses.
So far, we are not aware if Ethiopian leaders like Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, President Negasso Gidada, the Minister of
Agriculture or other national leaders have visited famine areas like Ogaden and Borena. Foreigners who have come a long way
from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and other donor countries have toured the area.
In the Southeast alone, about 2 million people need food aid. However, around 500,000 people need emergency food
assistance. One of the main problems is that famine relief stocks are empty. The Emergency Food Security Reserve has been
Food promised by donors last year is only beginning to arrive now. With the notable exception of the United States, new food
pledges have been slow. Even with the pledges, allowing shipment, loading and unloading at the ports, trucking to the people, it
will be several months before it arrives where it is desperately needed.
Some donors have given different excuses why they are not delivering the food they pledged - the war, lack of port facilities,
lack of transport. All of these are lame excuses. Anyone who cares to check with Djibouti port officials could have found out
that there was plenty of capacity. Even if Djibouti port were congested, there was Berbera port ready to be used.
Selected media and some donors took a recent offer by Eritrea to use the Assab port seriously. Some even criticized Ethiopia.
This, to Ethiopians, is absurd. First of all, Ethiopia, the recipient country at no time has indicated to anyone that there exists a
port problem. Secondly, it is not too long ago that Eritrea seized 70,000 tons of food destined for Ethiopia. The same people
who condemned Eritrea for seizing Ethiopia's food aid are now telling this country to use the Assab port.
Ethiopian officials have indicated, in no uncertain terms, to all concerned that they have no problem with port facilities and the
availability of trucks. Sadly enough, some international representatives and agencies have become an instrument for
disseminating Eritrean propaganda.
Now, the priority is to save life. We urge our leaders to visit the area. To our friends in the international community, we say that
this is not the time for mutual self-recrimination. Emergency interventions to feed today's hungry children cannot be deferred
until tomorrow. Let us work together to save life.