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Food Crisis Continues In Ethiopia - 2003-10-29

The food crisis in Ethiopia is continuing, despite help from the international community. In addition to insufficient rainfall during the past 17 years, other factors are contributing to the problem as well. English to Africa reporter Kim Lewis is just back from Ethiopia and has this report:

Ethiopians are facing three public health crises - malnutrition, malaria and measles - and while the high rate of malnutrition is one of the contributing factors, food alone will not solve the problem. Hedwig Deconinck, program manager for Save the Children-USA, says the food response from donors has been good, but it’s not enough to deal with the problems created during the famine of the year 2000. She says the problem goes deeper than lack of food.

"This is very severe and will not be addressed by distributing food to these people because they do not get out of their state of destitution without having improved access to food. That’s why I say yes, a famine, yes, but we have to look at the broader picture and address the broader picture."

The broader picture includes addressing long-term problems such as a lack of access to healthcare, cyclical epidemics like malaria and meningitis, and bread and butter issues. Also, families in the rural areas keep their sick and starving children hidden because they think the problem will bring shame on the family. So there is a certain cultural mindset that must be overcome as well. Ms. Deconinck says government and NGO’S are beginning to look into long-term solutions to the famine problem, but she says it requires time, money and people.

"I think lots of agencies are addressing that and of course in any emergency further development is totally suspended but it is so much more easy to give food relief because basically it’s logistical problem — of course very expensive - and then you know if we give food relief we save lives, but with the other one we save lives of tomorrow."

Ms. Deconinck says there are still many areas throughout Ethiopia where malnutrition and disease persist. But she says it is difficult to cover the entire country without the help of rapid assessment teams. She says while food aid is needed in these areas, it is development and change that will help solve the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.