Food crisis looms in the horn of Africa: Lutheran World Relief supporting early effort to feed 765,000 people

News and Press Release
Originally published
Baltimore and Nairobi, Kenya, April 6, 2000 - First wells have dried up, then livestock have perished, and now villagers are leaving their homes in search of food. After three years of scattered drought and erratic rains in the Horn of Africa, a major food crisis is looming there. In the worst-affected areas, in parts of Ethiopia, Lutheran World Relief is helping launch a program with partner agencies to feed 765,000 people from now until early next year.
The most urgent task facing a Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox relief partnership in Ethiopia is to secure, transport and distribute 89,000 metric tons of food. Some 21,000 metric tons are in hand and will be ready for use in-country by mid-April. The rest must still be found. To help manage the program within Ethiopia LWR has provided an initial grant of $105,000 with help from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. LWR is also working to raise additional church and public support.

"The elderly, nursing mothers and the very young in the drought areas are already very vulnerable," according to Francis Stephanos, LWR's East Africa director who is based in Nairobi and recently returned from Ethiopia. "Help now is much better than help later," he said. Timing is critical because the steady depletion of water and food reserves during the months and years of late and spotty rainfall has left farmers, herders and their families with no further means to cope.

"Thousands of households have already sold off all their assets," Stephanos said. Key crisis indicators are worse than those that preceded the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85, he and other aid officials report.

Within the $32 million joint program, Lutheran World Federation has detailed plans to assist 444,000 people in drought zones of Ethiopia's north, central, southeast and west. The objectives are to distribute grains and cooking oil to hungry families, provide nutritional supplements for severely malnourished children, and supply seeds, tools, water and livestock to assist survivors in re-establishing food reserves. These measures will also help people stay where they are, curbing large migrations of people that further complicate relief and recovery prospects. Parishes and peasant associations will assist LWF and its Catholic and Orthodox counterparts in getting food rations to individual, needy households.

Eight million people are in need of food aid in Ethiopia, according to the UN World Food Program, with almost as many others at increasing risk in neighboring countries. The Ethiopian government and international agencies including LWR and other members of the Action by Churches Together coalition have been seeking to mobilize support in recent weeks.

LWR's grant includes $75,000 from the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and $10,000 from LCMS World Relief. LWR mobilized major support for the same joint relief partnership during the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s. Early action by the partnership and others last year also helped avoid widespread hunger in the second year of the crisis that is spreading today.