Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, North America

ETHIOPIA: Only Long-term Aid Will Solve Immediate Needs – Agencies

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Aug 6 2003 (IPS) - Aid to overcome Ethiopia’s famine must be delivered along with a commitment to making the African nation strong enough to withstand such challenges in the future, leaders of U.S. aid groups said Wednesday.

Representatives of the eight agencies termed the ongoing famine in the country the "greatest humanitarian crisis facing any single nation in the world today".

While commending Washington for providing some 500 million dollars worth of food aid to Ethiopia to help feed the more than 12 million people threatened by the country’s third year of drought, the leaders said more must be done to ensure that African’s second most-populous country will not need such emergency assistance in the future.

"Unless we start to treat the problems, such as poverty and lack of development, rather than purely the symptoms, such as hunger and disease, the same chronic emergency state will remain, and we will be back here in two or three years, saying the same things," said Ken Hackett, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Also appearing at the press conference were top officials from Save the Children – USA, Lutheran World Relief, Africare, CARE USA, the International Orthodox Christian Charities, World Vision, and the humanitarian services director of the Church of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons.

Ethiopian officials, who appeared with the aid representatives, stressed the same point. "We had an early-warning system, and we told the world last year that we had a problem," said Dr. Brook Hailu, the Ethiopian Embassy’s deputy chief of mission here.

"We thus averted a far-more severe situation. But we are not naive; we can’t go on this way. We need long-term projects with help from (foreign governments), the international community, and the American public."

The agencies stressed that food alone has not been enough to combat the famine, as tens of thousands of children, most between the ages of two and five, are severely malnourished, with many facing certain death unless they receive immediate medical attention.

Ethiopia still requires emergency supplies of clean water and medicines to overcome the effects of the famine. Urgently needed are basic antibiotics, re-hydration solutions, medicines for the treatment of malaria, tuberculosis and dysentery, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

All of the agencies agreed that the Ethiopian government is handling aid provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) and private donors much more effectively and efficiently than its predecessor, the government of President Mengistu Haile Mariam, during the last famine in 1984. Mengistu was ousted from power in 1992 by rebels who now control the government.

But they also stressed that the drought and lack of clean water have left millions of Ethiopians, especially children, in a weakened state and hence more susceptible to diseases, such as measles, diarrhoea, and acute respiratory illnesses.

One of the poorest countries in the world, with 80 percent of the population living on less than one dollar a day, "Ethiopia’s health system does not have the resources to effectively prevent or treat these diseases," said Julius Coles, president of Africare.

"Non-food intervention is needed – clean water, basic inexpensive medicines," said Kathryn Wolford, president of Lutheran World Relief. "These things cost pennies a day."

"The final chapter hasn’t yet been written," she said. "We count on a vibrant civil society in Ethiopia."

The agencies focused most heavily on the importance of long-term activities to build self-sufficiency, reduce poverty, and ensure food security in Ethiopia, especially through investments in agriculture, water, health and education.

While Washington provided 500 million dollars in food aid this year, its development assistance amounted to only 55 million dollars, according to Peter Bell of CARE USA. Of that, only six million was earmarked for agricultural development.

Specific long-term needs include seeds, tools, livestock, fertilisers, equipment for the construction of reservoirs, small dams, boreholes, wells, and other water-conservation structures; improved transport and storage facilities; and community credit programmes, as well as projects to improve health, safe drinking water, and education.

"We must invest in long-term solutions," Bell said. "We must seize the opportunity to enable people to lift themselves out of poverty."

Ethiopia ranks 169 our of 175 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index (HDI), which ranks countries according to such measures as life expectancy, per capita income, literacy, child and maternal health, and access to the necessities of life, such as safe drinking water.

Less than one in seven Ethiopians has access to sanitation, and less than one in four has access to safe drinking water, while only 40 percent of the adult population is literate. Life expectancy is 46 years, but HIV-AIDS is spreading rapidly, with more than three million of Ethiopia’s 71 million people estimated to be infected. The country has around one million AIDS orphans.

"The world community has responded brilliantly (in providing food aid this year)," said Charles MacCormack, president of Save the Children.

"The next question is what’s going to happen next year. Ethiopia is committed to a larger strategy to fight chronic hunger. We have to move beyond emergency relief … to sustainable development," he said.

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