I. Ethiopia’s Curbs on Aid to Hungry Imperil 2 Million
The New York Times, April 29, 1988
Aid officials and Western diplomats contend that as many as 2 million people are out of reach of any known system of food distribution. This is due to the fact that the Government of Ethiopia has severely restricted emergency relief operations in the country’s north, a region devastated by both war and drought. Hundreds of thousands of tons of donated food are piling up at the ports and may never reach those in need because of these restrictions. Agricultural seeds are also not being distributed. Farmers who must soon plant their crops cannot do so, which could lead to even bigger problems next year. According to workers for humanitarian aid groups, 7 of the 47 million people nationwide remain in need of emergency relief. The worst affected provinces are in the north, mainly Eritrea and Tigre. The aid groups believe the number could still rise due to the varying degrees of crop failure in the current harvest. Relief workers say the Government of President Mariam has given priority to military aims over the need to feed the hungry. The Gov’t ordered most foreign relief workers out of the north a few weeks ago, saying that they were acting on their safety, but the workers don’t believe they were in harm’s way. Meanwhile, the authorities are only allowing food distribution in the areas of Eritrea and Tigre that they control. 240,000 tons of emergency food aid in addition to other relief supplies has gone undistributed in the port of Assab alone. The Government-run Relief and Rehabilitation Commission and a Christian consortium closely involved with Ethiopian organizations have the task of running the entire relief operation. Due to the consistent fighting between government troops and rebel forces, the Government commission cannot travel to areas of conflict. This is one of the reasons Western relief officials believe these groups cannot adequately handle the current situation. The Government has allowed 4 United Nations workers to return to the war-plagued north region since kicking out 40 to 60 of them a few months ago, but this is believed to have no real effect on increasing food distribution. Until the rebel forces are defeated in the north, the Ethiopian Government has said full relief operations in the region cannot continue. This has led many to conclude that does not want witnesses around while they try to wipe out the rebels by destroying the civilians who support them.
The Chief of Affairs of the United States Embassy in Ethiopia let his feelings known by saying: “We now have a war disaster imposed on a drought disaster”. By the most optimistic estimates, only 300,000 people in the Tigre and one million in Eritrea, out of a total population of 3.5 million in the two provinces can be fed by the Government and the Christian groups. If shipments cannot be guaranteed to reach those in need, the United States has brought up the possibility of cutting off its food supplies to Ethiopia. This has led President Reagan to denounce the Ethiopian Government for using food as a weapon to defeat the rebels. A relief worker summed up the current situation accordingly: “Every day that is lost means the number of people who need food is probably increasing”.