April 25, 2000
volume 11, no. 81
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

War, Drought, and Famine Impede Humanitarian Aid

    ADDIS ABABA, APR 18 (ZENIT.org).- The poor farmers of Giset, a remote and dust-ridden mountain village in Ethiopia, have done everything possible to survive in spite of 2 years of no rains. If humanitarian aid does not arrive soon, the inhabitants of Giset could pass from famine to starvation. Like them, 7.7 million Ethiopians are in danger of starvation, akin to the situation in the 80s. The World Food Program estimates that an additional 8 million are in danger in 9 more countries of the Horn of Africa (the other most affected countries are Somalia, Eritrea, northern Kenya, and southern Sudan) and they run the risk of being forgotten.

    Caritas-Italy has made an appeal to respond to the troubling situation of this African region. "The situation cannot continue with the few crumbs of the rich to take away the hunger of the poor: there must be a change in the distribution of places at the table, so that Lazarus can become one of the guests."

    "Every day this continent suffers because of hunger, natural calamities, and wars, and we cannot just remember it when we see skeletons and cadavers on our television screens," the Caritas statement continues.

    In Ethiopia, for example, among its 60 million inhabitants, infant mortality reaches 10%, the foreign debt per capita equals $173 and dependence on food from abroad is higher than 20%. This is a dramatic record. Over the last 20 years, there have been one million deaths for lack of food and a million inhabitants have fled their homes to seek refuge in other safer places because of the war.

    Catherine Bertini, special U.N. envoy in the zone, visited Giset last Sunday, which is 90 miles northeast of Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. She denounced the lack of response to the petition made by World Food Program for this month, for a total of $7.9 million to feed 212,000 Eritreans. Bertini, who is also a director of the World Food Program, is visiting Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Kenya. "These people have been able to resist up until now, but their own reserves are almost exhausted," she said.

    "There have been no rains this year," one village inhabitant, named Fatima, said. "There is nothing. I am waiting for help; my husband cannot work because he is sick." The family's livestock died last year. They had planted sorghum but it did not rain and the seeds never germinated. Stories like this are repeated all over Giset, a village of scarcely 1,000 inhabitants.

    The only help the villagers receive is 33 pounds of grain every month from a government aid agency. Fatima said that even if the rains come, it will not be much help, because the family has not prepared the field, which is full of stones and parched by the Eritrean sun. The price for grain has gone up by 30%, and cutbacks affect commerce, explained Kofi Owusu, coordinator of the World Food Program in Eritrea. Meanwhile, the wars of the region are affecting the aid operations in many countries with serious cutbacks in foodstuffs, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and Burundi.

    The World Food Program estimates that some 850,000 persons, a quarter of Eritrea's population, needs help, having been displaced by the border war that Eritrea has been engaged in for 23 months against Ethiopia, according to Worku Tesfamichael, the commissioner of government aid. "The war does not help Ethiopians and Eritreans who need food and development," he said. "War is only destruction, there is nothing to be gained."

    In cooperation with the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, the Caritas international network launched an emergency program in 1999, and at present is organizing a massive transport of cereals, to be distributed in the Korem and Alamata centers, which are in the south of Tigrai. Over the next few weeks, $1 million in food will be sent. ZE00041902


April 25, 2000
volume 11, no. 81

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