Report from Ethiopia: "Outcome of food crisis yet to be written"

Originally published
[A delegation including LWR President Kathryn Wolford is in Ethiopia assessing the severe food crisis there. Here is her first report.]
Addis Ababa, March 13, 2003 -- "Our delegation from Lutheran World Relief, Africare and Catholic Relief Services had a sobering visit to the field yesterday. We went to an area where CRS is just beginning to work, to villages where just a small amount of government food aid had been distributed.

Reminders of 1984

"We entered homes with literally nothing more than a cooking pot, a few utensils and well-worn mats on a dirt floor. Families had already depleted their seeds and sold their animals. I saw one child, aged three, who was the size of a one-year-old...and realized we were seeing what could happen more and more frequently if adequate food assistance and other support are not forthcoming. It is hard not to think about [the famine of] 1984-85 and make comparisons.

Good News and Bad

"Good news today is that the current Ethiopian government is being pro-active in acknowledging the situation and requesting support. Viable government institutions are in place and are working with NGOs to meet the needs. Likewise, aid provided to-date has helped to mitigate the impact on most vulnerable groups. Ethiopian society is contributing too, for example, we visited a group of school children that are assisting their 'brothers and sisters' in need.

"The bad news is that 11.3 million people -- more than in 1984-85 -- are at risk. Areas of chronic poverty have become zones of food insecurity. Drought in the 1990s already depleted many local assets and options for coping. People have not yet recovered from that and now they face another severe drought.

"The United Nation's and governmental early warning system (FEWS) successfully raised the alarm on this crisis many months ago, but says much work remains. 'The outcome of the current food crisis is not yet written. A large-scale humanitarian catastrophe can and must be averted through early, appropriate and adequate response...,' FEWS reported early this year.

"Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told us that it is not just those who are giving but also those who are receiving food aid who are tired of the situation. Ethiopia's goal is to use even relief aid within long-term strategies for sound development. He focused especially on water harvesting and small-scale irrigation as key long-term investments to strengthen Ethiopia's farm sector."

The members of the Lutheran, Catholic and African-American delegation will report on Ethiopia's food needs and prospects at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, March 18, 2003.