February 15, 2003: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: COS - Thailand: Diplomacy: Hunger: US Embassy in Italy: A team led by Ambassador Tony Hall and USAID’s Assistant Administrator Roger Winter visited Ethiopia February 15-21 and found the country with the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to contain a major humanitarian disaster

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Peace Corps Ethiopia : The Peace Corps in Ethiopia: February 15, 2003: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: COS - Thailand: Diplomacy: Hunger: US Embassy in Italy: A team led by Ambassador Tony Hall and USAID’s Assistant Administrator Roger Winter visited Ethiopia February 15-21 and found the country with the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to contain a major humanitarian disaster

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A team led by Ambassador Tony Hall and USAID’s Assistant Administrator Roger Winter visited Ethiopia February 15-21 and found the country with the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to contain a major humanitarian disaster

A team led by Ambassador Tony Hall and USAID’s Assistant Administrator Roger Winter visited Ethiopia February 15-21 and found the country with the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to contain a major humanitarian disaster

A team led by Ambassador Tony Hall and USAID’s Assistant Administrator Roger Winter visited Ethiopia February 15-21 and found the country with the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to contain a major humanitarian disaster

The Threat of Famine in Ethiopia

Report from Ambassador Tony P. Hall
February 15-21, 2003

"It’s even worse than I expected.
Ethiopia is once again faced with the threat of famine."


A team led by Ambassador Tony Hall and USAID’s Assistant Administrator Roger Winter visited Ethiopia February 15-21 and found the country with the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to contain a major humanitarian disaster. In 2003, 11.3 million victims of drought will require about 1.4 million tons of food assistance and an additional 3 million people will need to be closely monitored. With 20 percent of Ethiopia’s population at risk, unless deftly handled, 2003 could well become a crisis of similar magnitude to the catastrophe of 1984 when one million people died. Given the depth and wide geographic spread of the hunger, greater leadership and involvement of the United Nations at the country level is required. And donors need to be seized with a heightened sense of urgency.

The scenes at feeding sites were ones of despair and tragedy. Mothers had nothing to offer their hungry children. Children who should have been playing had no energy to even move. Senior citizens looked decades older than they actually were.

“Take a good look at us –
We’re not going to be around in three months.”

A Woman’s response during a nutrition assessment in Harage

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies on Food and Agriculture Tony Hall, USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Roger Winter, and USAID staff visited Ethiopia February 15-21. In addition to meetings in Addis Ababa with U.S. Embassy/USAID, United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Government of Ethiopia functionaries, the team spent several days in rural areas reviewing World Food Program (WFP) and NGO immediate relief and longer-term operations.

Ethiopia has the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa and an annual per capita income of only U.S. 100 dollars. The country is once again faced with the threat of famine. In 2003, some 11.3 million victims of drought will require about 1.3 million tons of food grains and 125,000 metric tons of enriched foods. An additional 3 million potentially at-risk will need to be closely monitored. "It is even worse than I expected. There is a tremendous amount of malnutrition, and I am numbed by the sheer numbers of acutely malnourished children. I was the first Member of Congress to travel in the rural Ethiopian highlands in 1984 and half a dozen times since then. I never thought I would see it as bad as during the Great Famine of 1984-85. Fortunately, now the government is helping the relief efforts, not hindering them." Ambassador Hall

Securing a sustainable supply of food for its people has been a priority of the Ethiopian government and donors for 20 years. Despite good efforts, food insecurity remains the country’s most deep-rooted problem. The catastrophic famine of 1984-85 was followed by serious food shortages in 1992, 1994, 2000 and 2002. Of the country’s 67.2 million inhabitants, almost half – 28 million – live in deep and long-term poverty, and are vulnerable to drought, acute malnutrition and even, at extreme moments, to starvation. A November 2002 multi-agency pre-harvest assessment confirmed widespread crop failures in lowland areas in the north, east, south and central parts of the country. Some midland areas are also badly affected. A number of traditional surplus-producing areas of the country have also been adversely affected, reducing overall national food availability.

Overall, the food security situation both in the cropping and pastoral areas is poor. Recourse to markets is limited because of low or lack of purchasing power and cereal price hikes (up 20-30 percent in many areas compared with a year ago) – and falling livestock prices. And it is evident that the 2000 and 2002 droughts had for many a withering impact on household assets.

What the team saw
Ambassador Hall and USAID Humanitarian Attaché Tim Lavelle traveled to the East Shewa zone (Nazareth), two hours east of the capital of Addis Ababa, and reviewed WFP-supported food-for-assets creation and protection. WFP, working through the Ministry of Agriculture, is successfully promoting activities at the community level focused on building skills and infrastructure (ponds, gully control, reforestation, etc) through public works supported by food assistance. Drought-related general distributions were also observed. It seems that too little investment has been made in irrigation or other systems to manage water supply – only about 5 percent of Ethiopia’s potentially irrigable land is presently irrigated.

The entire team visited the Southern Nations and Nationalities, Peoples Region (SNNPR) with the Government of Ethiopia’s Commissioner for Disaster Prevention and Preparedness (DPPC) and reviewed activities of World Vision, the Irish-NGO Project Concern and an Ethiopian non-governmental organization, Project Mercy. These NGOs are performing in a truly exemplary manner in identifying gaps and providing support where government services are weak or unadapted to local needs. They are powerful instruments in promoting people’s participation in development and giving a voice to the poor. And while they are committed to working with and strengthening the capacity of local government, it was gratifying to see that the Ethiopian Government, at different levels, is increasingly recognizing NGOs as an important development force and partner. World Vision’s own 2003 planned contribution for relief and development to Ethiopia is a truly impressive U.S. 17 million dollars.

The "investments" of World Vision and like-minded NGOs and donors in the enhancement of people’s livelihoods and the development of rural infrastructure can, if planned well, go hand-in-hand with the delivery of life-saving food aid. The projects that we saw amply demonstrated that it is possible to build a platform from which people can, with complementary development interventions, graduate out of emergency relief.

Meeting with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi

Regarding the drought, the Prime Minister thanked the team and stated that the US government assistance was early, saved lives and, without it, mortality rates would have been higher. Despite resource problems, the Prime Minster stated that we are grateful and has no reason to complain. With regard to USAID, the shift to agriculture and the famine prevention initiative are welcome and timely for Ethiopia. We look forward to improving the development use of food aid in Ethiopia.

The Prime Minister stated that one of the problems is that the current focus is on emergency response, and when the emergency is over, we are back to business as usual – struggling to mobilize basic resource for development. Emergency response without development feeds the other and the cycle continues with a potential that the next crisis could require a response for 20 million people in need.

Project Mercy – An Oasis in the Desert – "Each face beams with hope"

Project Mercy, started in 1977 by an Ethiopian refugee couple (Marta Gabre-Tsadick and Demme Tekle-Wold) is a Fort Wayne, Indiana registered NGO which ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of African refugees. In Yetebon (Gurague Zone, SNNPR), Project Mercy is focused on health, agriculture, education and vocational training of the local population. To date, Project Mercy’s activities in Yetebon (1993-present) have been funded at a level of U.S. dollars 4.43 million, exclusively by private U.S. donations. Impelled by the failed rains in this above-average food-producing zone, Project Mercy has now embarked on an extensive health and nutrition outreach program to more than 200,000 people in eight woredas (districts) of the southern region. Marta told our team: "we desperately need to focus on the malnutrition of children."
"They are one of the best all-around development projects that I have seen throughout the world. They address all of the needs people have and are able to respond in a crisis like this. Project Mercy has an excellent school feeding program, complete with a school garden. They have a hospital and excellent teachers and doctors. Additionally, they run skills training workshops, agriculture extension and animal husbandry programs and microenterprise efforts."
Ambassador Hall

The threat of HIV/AIDs – "Inherit the whirlwind"

Today, Ethiopia has the third largest number of HIV/AIDS positive people in the world – over 2.2 million affected, 250,000 are children under-five and there are an estimated one million HIV/AIDS orphans. The team was informed that the present devastating drought will only spiral these numbers upwards as drought victims increasingly migrate to urban areas, even if only temporarily. In a country where potential health service coverage hovers around 50 percent, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS has to be taken on board at all levels (Government, UN, NGOs, civil society) as a fundamental challenge that is poised to wipe out the last two decades of development. A Project Mercy doctor who traveled to a Catholic Church-run hospital in the valley beyond the Yetebon hill informed that the majority of beds there were filled with AIDS patients. Ambassador Hall interviewed a young married woman at a Project Concern food distribution site. "Have you and your husband discussed HIV/AIDS?" "Yes, we have talked about it." "Do you know what causes it and how it can be prevented?" "No, I do not."
Ambassador Hall and USAID Assistant Administrator Winter announced a new ‘non-food’ contribution to the emergency in Ethiopia, worth US$ 7.2 million. The assistance will be used for water and sanitation, seeds and agriculture rehabilitation, and primary health care and nutrition. An additional food contribution of 27,000 MT, valued at approximately US$ 12.2 million, was also announced.

Conclusions and recommendations

1) While the United States (with a commitment to date of 289,000 tons) has responded generously to the 2003 joint Government of Ethiopia/UN food aid appeal for 1.44 million metric tons, given the gravity of the present situation, a further commitment of 300,000 tons in grains and blended foods is strongly recommended. Surveys in the Amhara, Oromia and Somali regions presently record global acute malnutrition of around 15 percent, which is in the crisis range by international standards. The height of the "hunger season" will occur in the April through June period. A woman at a food distribution site told Ambassador Hall: "I leave the house early every morning because I can’t face my children with the truth that we have barely enough food to eat once a day."

2) Greater leadership and involvement of the United Nations at the country level is required. In particular the UN should:

* name a special envoy to focus on improving the efficiency and overall effectiveness of UN operations in responding to the present drought in both Ethiopia and Eritrea;
* prioritize assistance to the establishment of a nationwide nutrition surveillance system;
* pursue more vigorously programs that delivers a combination of services (food supplements, micro-nutrients, health inputs, immunizations, etc.) targeted to the most nutritionally disadvantaged groups in the population (e.g., infants and pregnant women);
* quickly intensify and expand activities to strengthen HIV/AIDS surveillance systems, care for orphans, and training for service providers to better manage STI/HIV/AIDS.

Specifically, the UN (and their partner NGOs) should take advantage of food deliveries (where large numbers of beneficiaries often wait for hours to receive their ration) to impart mother-child care health training and nutrition education messages. The team repeatedly heard that in this emergency, with the exception of WFP, the rest of the UN organizations in Ethiopia are not seized with a sense of urgency.

3) The Government of Ethiopia, donors and the UN need to reassess the size of the national Emergency Food Security Reserve (EFSR), which is presently 407,000 tons. Given the magnitude of recent disasters, a reserve of 650,000-750,000 tons would seem more appropriate. A larger reserve could also serve as a price-stabilization mechanism in good years. Even in non-drought years, about 5 million people simply do not have the money to buy food. Specifically, WFP is encouraged to utilize the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a part of the CGIAR-network, to conduct a study of the historical experience of local grain purchases by donors within Ethiopia.

4) Ethiopia contributed 100,000 tons in emergency food assistance to the EFSR from their budget in 2000 and 45,000 tons in 2002. The Government of Ethiopia should be strongly encouraged to match its 2000 contribution in 2003.

5) Food for Peace Title I and/or Food for Progress bilateral options should be urgently reviewed with USDA/FAS regional agricultural attaché. A Title I contribution could be "earmarked" by the Government of Ethiopia for the EFSR as was done with USAID/Title III food assistance in 1999. In the longer-term, the government and donors need to take into account Ethiopia's structural food deficit (approximately 700,000 tons each year) and focus on improving the national capacity to import food on time to where it is needed and directly address this deficit in its development strategies.

6) Given the acute shortage of supplementary foods presently in country, USAID should fund the immediate purchase of blended food from Kenya and began overland shipments from Mombassa to Djibouti as soon as possible. The establishment of a short-term airlift operation using military assets should also be explored. Moreover, USAID and other donors should consider provision (via airlift) of both fortified foods (F-75 and F-100) for therapeutic feeding. UNICEF is encouraged to immediately increase its current availability of these supplements and to build up a contingency stock.

7) Contingency planning efforts should be explored in case the throughput of the port of Djibouti is reduced because of security issues or capacity constraints (the latter is not envisaged with the current delivery schedule). A trial shipment of some 5,000 to 10,000 tons of cereals should be dispatched through Port Sudan.

8) USAID/Washington should extend the duration of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) assessment team in country and consider the expansion of OFDA non-food support coverage, presently assisting 500,000 vulnerable people. Further, USAID should provide (if feasible) OFDA grant authority in country to better ensure rapid response to non-food requirements and counter-famine measures/initiatives.

9) USAID Ethiopia is to be lauded for reprogramming U.S. 17 million dollars in unused non-project assistance (NPA) from prior years for use in health and nutrition inventions related to the present crisis. USAID is encouraged to "scrub" further its in-country development portfolio to ensure that all possible development program "residues" have been identified.
10) U.S. Mission to the U.N. Agencies in Rome will deepen the dialogue with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) related to intensification of FAO efforts in Ethiopia on its acknowledged areas of "comparative advantage" (soil and water conservation, SPS capacity building, reforestation, trans-boundary pests, global early warning, Rift Valley fever control, etc.).

11) There appears to be a loss of institutional memory among some donors and in certain donor capitals of just how massive and devastating was the 1984-85 famine. High-profile crises elsewhere have kept Ethiopia off the television screens. Ambassador Hall met by chance with one donor who (while admitting being unable to travel beyond Addis Ababa) assured that "the seriousness of the situation is undoubtedly exaggerated" and "the matter is well in hand." Herein lies the problem. We all need to redouble our efforts to broadcast the need for immediate action to avert imminent tragedy. As per the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) presently assessing the nutritional and contagious disease status in four Ethiopian geographic zones, the projected excess deaths over the period February-June 2003 is estimated at 32,000 excess deaths due to drought in the reviewed areas. Nationally, by the end of 2003, excess deaths could be as high as 300,000 to 500,000 people unless vigorous action is taken. This is simply not acceptable.

Ambassador Hall’s Conclusion

I am saddened by the fact that Ethiopia is again threatened by a famine. The Ethiopian people are strong and gracious. But they cannot cope with a drought this severe without help. The international community needs to respond generously and quickly.

My heartfelt gratitude and thanks to Ambassador Brazeal and her staff for bringing to fruition a monument honoring the late U.S. Congressman Mickey Leland and USAID/State Department staff, both American and Ethiopian – who tragically died on a humanitarian mission to a remote area of western Ethiopia on August 7, 1989. Both Mickey and I served together for a number of years on the House Select Committee on Hunger where he worked tirelessly to make other lives better. And while Mickey traveled all over the world to assist the hungry poor, he had a special love for Ethiopia. He remains for me, and for all who knew him, a living example of the deep compassion and generosity of America.

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Story Source: US Embassy in Italy

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ethiopia; COS - Thailand; Diplomacy; Hunger



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