Gary Putka, "U.S. to increase Secret Food Aid for Ethiopians," Wall Street Journal, 17 December 1984.

(Summary by Harminder Bhullar)




          Putka discusses U.S. plans to significantly increase their “secret food aid” through Sudan to rebel-held areas in an effort to reach starving Ethiopians that have been ignored by the Addis Ababa regime, in particular, the northern Ethiopian provinces of Tigre and Eritrea. In addition, although not publicly acknowledged by the U.S., many officials have also confirmed U.S. plans to give cash to two private U.S. relief agencies to buy grain surpluses from insurgent-held northern Ethiopia. This is controversial, while some believe this money will support the guerillas and never reach the thousands starving. According to one official, the U.S. hopes to increase food shipments to parts of Tigre to 3,000 metric tons, more than three times the present level of under 1,000 tons. The greatest difficult, however, is not the availability of grain, but rather its transportation and distribution to these guerilla-held areas. Ehtiopia’s military rulers have not allowed food to these areas, so trucks have to travel at night on rugged roads to avoid being spotted and bombed by government MiGs. Often, food has to be carried on mules or camels to “negotiate mountainous passes.” 

            The U.S. Agency for International Development is also expected to give a total of $5 million to two U.S. organizations to purchase grain in Tigre. Putka notes that some U.S. diplomats object to this “cash purchase plan” because they believe that it would not add to grain stocks, and would “open the U.S. up to requests from other guerilla groups at a time when the U.S. is trying to improve relations with Addis Abada.” Relief workers say that some officials stress that the cash could be used to support guerillas, and grain would be fed to the fighters first. Relief workers emphasize that even with increased grain shipments and purchases, relief still amounts to a trickle to the 1,500 people dying every day due to starvation or hunger-induced diseases in Tigre alone. He states that western official in Sudan said that “the Ethiopian regime is trying to starve the insurgent-sympathizing population of up to six million into submission, a charge the Ethiopians have heatedly denied.”

            In addition, the U.S. is also concerned about a “potentially destabilizing crisis” with Sudan, the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in Africa, as it is faced to deal with the influx of thousands of sick and underfed Ethiopian refugees, “bringing disease and taxing the resources of an already poor nation that hosts Africa’s biggest refugee population,” approximately 1.1 million. Traditionally generous to refugees, Sudan has already denied immediate entry to needy Ethiopian refugees due to overcrowding.