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Red Cross Launches Ethiopia Famine Appeal

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Red Cross launches Ethiopia famine appeal

Staff and agencies

Monday November 11, 2002

The Red Cross today launched an appeal to counter famine in drought-stricken Ethiopia, and the country's prime minister warned up to 15 million people could die of hunger without urgent help.

Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, said the famine could dwarf the situation in the 1980s that led to the Live Aid relief fund and concerts. "The disaster we had in 84-85, the number involved was roughly a third to one half of the number of people involved now. So if that was a nightmare, this will be too ghastly to contemplate," Mr Zenawi told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The Red Cross hoped to raise 16 million Swiss francs (£7.2m) to reach 120,500 people left in urgent need of help by failed rains. If the drought continues, up to 14 million Ethiopians will probably need aid next year, the Red Cross said.

"In many parts of the country, people are entirely dependent on these rains. Ethiopia has had several consecutive years of drought, and people have few assets to fall back on," said Cecilia Brunnstrom, head of the Red Cross/Red Crescent delegation in Ethiopia.

"Much of the harvest is doomed. Even drought-resistant cash crops have failed in some areas," she added.

Mr Zenawi saw "no possibility" that Ethiopia would cope without international aid.

"Even if we had the food available in the domestic market the government doesn't have the money to buy this surplus food for redistribution," he said.

The situation left many wondering whether Ethiopia's famine was created entirely by drought.

The international development secretary, Clare Short, pointed to the ongoing conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

"There was a war, the border is still militarised, the process of demarcating the border hasn't been done yet, there is problems over access to the port. All of this has made the emergency more difficult. But whatever the difficulties we have got to get food through to people," she said.

She said the UK had sent £12m in food aid in addition to supplying 20% of the aid provided by the European Union, but she saw a long-term food plan as crucial.

"If you keep giving people handouts of food, you undermine local agriculture. We have got to keep people fed but we have got to restore their ability to grow food for themselves. There will be crisis year after year after year in Ethiopia unless we can start much more effective long-term development," she said.

A spokesman for Christian Aid, Andrew Pendleton, told the Today programme: "I don't think the Ethiopian government is blameless and the international community certainly is not blameless.

"Ten per cent plus of the Ethiopian government's revenues are spent on repaying international debts. That is an enormous amount of money to take away from a country that is critically poor. In the long term we have to take a look at why this keeps happening again and again."

In the short term, however, Ethiopia needed food aid in "huge amounts" to avoid catastrophe, Mr Zenawi warned. "That is going to be in the realm of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions," he said.

The Red Cross said it planned to use the appeal funds to run "cash-for-work" programs as well as paying for food aid. The cash-for-work programs - which include environmental protection and water supply and sanitation projects - have proved popular with Ethiopians in previous years, the Red Cross said.

"The aim is to inject money into the economic system at the same time as we give people a choice in fulfilling their needs," said Ms Brunnstrom.

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