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Ethiopia still needs relief

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | June 27, 2000

Even with shipments in port daily, the need for food, relief supplies, and agricultural development programs is still pronounced in Ethiopia, according to

relief officials.

Thousands of hungry refugees and nearly half a million people displaced by the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to stream out of their homes,

seeking aid and food.

But as rain starts to fall in some areas, travel is slow going for the refugees -- and for the aid shipments en route to them.

"I saw a lot of different organizations and programs working effectively," said Greg Yoder, director of Mission Network News, a radio program that covers

mission-related work around the world. Yoder recently spent 11 days traveling around Ethiopia.

"You could see firsthand that the food shipments are getting there. But I still saw people dying, and whether there is enough food is an ongoing question.

Road conditions are just awful. What would normally take an hour to drive took us six hours."

Some organizations are focusing not only on distributing food but also on helping families attain food security. The Christian Reformed World Relief

Committee (CRWRC) has been working with Food for the Hungry International, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Mennonite Central Committee, Save the

Children, and Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief to support "Food for Work" programs. Families, in exchange for food and supplies, work on

community improvements such as road building, tree planting, and gardening.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation became a large financial backer for Ethiopian relief when, as part of a special project, it awarded a $1 million grant to

relief groups working in Ethiopia. The funding was split between World Vision, Save the Children, and CARE, all of which are focusing on meeting

immediate food needs but also on achieving long-term food stability. CARE and World Vision received $350,000 each and Save the Children received

$300,000.

CARE, which has worked in Ethiopia since 1984, will use the grant money to provide seeds, tools, and medicines to some 100,000 people, and will distribute

400 tons of food to more than 25,000 of the most vulnerable people in Farta Woreda in the South Gondor Zone.

Save the Children, working in Ethiopia since 1984, will expand its existing Gode feeding centers, and will establish a feeding center in the Afdheer Zone,

south of Gode, for malnourished children. Additionally, programs will help to re-establish food security by vaccinating livestock.

World Vision, operating in Ethiopia since 1971, will open feeding centers for malnourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers in and around

Gode Town, and will provide seeds and tools to more than 24,000 farmers in other Ethiopian communities.

Action by Churches Together and Church World Service, along with their member and partner organizations, are also responding to needs throughout the

Horn of Africa.

Still, more financial contributions are needed, reported response groups that are footing the cost of shipping as well as on-the-ground program operations.

Because of the high cost of flying in supplies - and because the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea prohibited flying supplies into the northern region - food

and other relief supplies are shipped, then trucked to the hardest-hit regions. Flying one ton of supplies to Ethiopia costs around $1,500, reported various

relief organizations.

But, at least last month, even trucking was a challenge because the trucks normally used for relief shipments were used for war supplies. "There was a bit of

a crunch on trucks in May," said Jonathan Frerichs, spokesperson for Lutheran World Relief.

In addition, sometimes the government ordered all trucks weighing more than 10 tons into a central transport office, which delayed some shipments, said

Jacob Kramer, CRWRC relief team member. Most relief shipments are transported in 30-ton trucks because it's more efficient and economical, he added.

But shipments eventually get through, with some arriving each day. Now many relief groups are calling for volunteer doctors and nurses who are willing to

travel into the hardest-hit communities to try to stave off the threat of disease.

Relief officials also report that, sometimes, they have difficulty knowing exactly how many people are in need. "In the south, a lot of nomadic herders are

just hard to track," said Yoder.

Yoder said he was concerned that, if the war escalates again, donations will fall off. "A lot of people say 'I'm not going to help them, because they're an

aggressor.' But the vast majority hungry people there don't care about politics."

"Geographical and political differences are so irrelevant to a person trying to scrape enough for their next meal and their children's next meal," agreed Joe

Cerrell, spokesperson for the Gates Foundation.

The food shortage in Ethiopia was caused by a drought. Already parched by several years of below-average rainfall, Ethiopia was robbed this year of its

rain, leaving nearly 8 million people on the brink of starvation. Most Ethiopian farmers use traditional planting methods and do not have the resources to

irrigate their small plots of land. The drought has resulted in barren fields, malnourished families, and dead livestock.

Unlike the 1984-1985 drought, when nearly 1 million people died, most relief groups reported that, if they receive adequate monetary donations, they can

still head off a potential famine.


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