Ethiopia: Delays in safety nets creating "disaster" - report

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

ADDIS ABABA, 29 July (IRIN) - Delays in the execution of Ethiopia's landmark safety net scheme aimed at ending perennial hunger in the Horn of Africa country are creating a "man-made disaster", according to a government report made public on Thursday.

"The inadequate implementation of the productive safety net program is resulting in a man-made disaster in many areas of the country," the government's Emergency Nutrition Coordination Unit said in the report.

Under the scheme, five million chronically hungry people are supposed to be given food or cash - around six Ethiopian Birr ($0.70 cents) - in return for doing public works like building roads, but in some places families have received nothing.

The team said as of the end of May, only 11 percent of cash and 44 percent of food had actually reached people in need - despite the scheme being operational since January.

Britain, the European Commission, the US and the World Bank are all providing financial support for the US $200 million-a-year scheme, which won praise at the 2004 G8 meeting of wealthy nations in the US.

"The safety net will protect the assets of chronically food-insecure families, enhance the functioning of food markets, and support urgent rural investments," the G8 leaders stated at the time.

"Within three to five years, this safety net should provide an alternative to emergency assistance for the Ethiopians who are chronically food insecure," they added.

However, nutritional experts said outbreaks of scurvy and hunger were occurring because of delays in delivering food or cash to families.

The criticism came two days after the European Union announced it was pouring an extra 60 million Euros into the program.

Delays in handing out aid to families under the program have also been condemned by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "Urgent action is required to address the implications of the delay in the programme," he said in June.

The report said in one region of the country where the scheme was functional, some 700,000 "poorest of the poor" had been excluded and had not received any kind of aid at all.

Mulugeta Debalkew, of the Ministry of Agriculture, dismissed the report but agreed that there had been some delays.

"There are minor problems but the government and donor community are devising certain strategies to cope with the delays," he said.

Mulugeta blamed some of the delays on the novelty of the safety net programme the fact that some local officials were not handing out support to families.

The programme ranks as one of the largest aid programs in Ethiopia, with almost half of the 520 districts included in the scheme.


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