Lawrence Bong






A Vast Drought Disaster Threatens Ethiopia Again," The New York Times, November 12, 1987.


Main Idea:


A vast drought across Ethiopia has resulted in millions of starving citizens.  Humanitarian groups have brought in food into the region but the major hurdle is transportation of the food to the needy people.  The Ethiopian government is partly to blame for the food shortage because of their agricultural policy.




Drought has ravaged crops across the country with the northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigre being the hardest hit.  The civil war and the lack of transportation for relief aid has worsened the situation.  Although aid from Western donors is adequate the problem is transporting the aid into the most needy areas in the north where the Government and rebels are fighting.  Aid workers have set up food camps within reasonable distances from homes.  A rebel attacked an aid convey in October which has forced relief workers to set up these food camps for the needy to come to.


In August the Ethiopian government requested nearly the same amount of relief they requested in the drought of 1985, 1.1 million tons of food.  That estimate is thought to be a low number this time around.  The head of relief operations, Michael Priestley, says the donations are satisfactory but the lack of transportation is the major obstacle.  They currently have 306 long-haul trucks and they need a minimum of 300 or more.  During October’s rebel ambush the relief agency lost 23 trucks.  After the ambush relief shipments stopped but have recently started up again despite rebel warnings.


The rebel group Eritrean People’s Liberation Front says they have a policy of no obstruction for relief activities but accuse the relief trucks of transporting military supplies to the Ethiopian army. 


There were rains in June and farmers planted crops but July was almost completely dry.  There were rains again in August and farmers again replanted, but the rains stopped again.  The most severe drought is estimated to be in Tigre where there is only a two-week supply of food aid.  People must walk for miles to food distribution centers to received aid.  Relief officials say that they need to distribute about 18,000 tons of food a week but can only transport 6,000 tons of it.  Sometimes the Government closes the road for security reasons and sometimes the robbers close the road.


Many blame the Ethiopian government because they force farmers to sell much of their harvest surpluses to the state at low prices.  Western aid officials are negotiating with the government to revise their policy to reduce state intervention in farming.