The Food Crisis in Ethiopia
Below we are printing a Joint Statement by NGOs, dated
April 14, 2000. The context of the statement is the situation where
international donor organisations, particularly the countries of the European
Union, including Britain, have been slow in reacting to the emerging famine
crisis in Ethiopia in order to avert it. According to one writer, the standard
EU procedure for sending food aid means that it can take around 20 days to
ship. For other aid it takes around five months at best, and sometimes longer.
The same writer pointed out that the EU sometimes includes in the figures that
it has pledged, but not yet delivered, the 80,000 tonnes that it promised last
year, but failed to deliver. In 1999, it sent little more than half of what it
promised, which is one reason why the food security reserve set up by the
Ethiopian government is at an all-time low. Agencies borrowed from it against
written guarantees from donors that were not honoured. Other writers have
condemned western governments for cutting back on development aid because of
the unrelated issue of the armed conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
"As non-governmental agencies working with the people
of Ethiopia, we wish to state that the present food crisis is not yet a repeat
of 1984/85. We affirm that there is a critical situation in the South and East
that could have been averted and a widespread crisis can still be
averted, with prompt and appropriate action.
"Ethiopia remains highly vulnerable to catastrophic
food shortages. However, the government, with the support of the international
community, has developed effective and transparent early-warning and response
mechanisms. These systems have not elicited adequate and timely responses. NGOs
and others warned of the developing emergency and lobbied donors for responses
well before the situation deteriorated. Early-warning systems are only
effective if they are responded to in a timely fashion.
"The government, with donor support, had put in place
an Emergency Food Security Reserve (EFSR) with a capacity of more than 300,000
metric tonnes. The EFSR was depleted last year. Some donors borrowed from the
reserve, and food would have been in place to overcome the crisis.
"As NGOs deeply concerned with the rapidly
deteriorating situation in Ethiopia, we wish to assert that:
"The crisis is not restricted to a few areas, but that
much of the country, and indeed most neighbouring countries, are affected or at
serious risk. All concerned must be more proactive in preventing the spread of
the emergency to other vulnerable areas,
"There is a pressing responsibility falling on the
shoulders of the international community to respond quickly, and to deliver on
their pledges. Food must be pre-positioned by June in remote areas so that
access to beneficiaries is not at risk of being cut off by the expected onset
of heavy rains in July.
"This is not a quick-fix solution that commitment must
be sustained. It must be ensured that food is in the pipeline and getting to
the people for at least the next six months, without interruption.
"The need now is not just food, important as it is.
Donors must also support other essential activities: water supply, health,
"The failure of the rains may have triggered the
crisis but is not the fundamental cause. The coping mechanisms of vulnerable
communities are so fragile that minor climatic variations can result in crisis
conditions. Alongside the emergency response, long-term investment is required
to consolidate coping mechanisms and address food insecurity. This crisis
should serve to augment, not diminish, long-term development efforts.
"Most importantly, the cycle of crisis must be broken.
The people of Ethiopia need peace, more development assistance and
Action Aid, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Community Aid
Abroad, Concern Agro-Actin, GOAL, Intermon, Lutheran World Federation,
Oxfam-GB, save the Children-UK, save the Children-USA, SOS- Sahel.