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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Ethiopia: Too late to avert catastrophe?
Western donors and the Ethiopian government are wrangling over the speed of the international response to the threat of famine in the African country.
Talking Point On Air
Also discussed on the programme this week was the controversy over the custody of the Cuban six-year-old, Elian Gonzalez.
I cannot understand some people's morals! Which comes first, a country whose people are starving to death, or a political argument?
I do not believe that the Prime Minister is putting the political argument before his people! Families are dying of starvation while their Prime Minister refuses to let provisions into Ethiopia via Eritrea! I thought that he would want maximum input of food to help these people.
As for us in other countries; how can we help?
Berhane Ghebrezghi, USA
The situation in Ethiopia is political created by these so-called developed countries. Ethiopia is capable of sustaining its food production if there was stability, but, as you have read and seen, there are up rising which has paralysed the able farmers to perform their functions as farmer. The airlift of food to Ethiopia from developed countries will not help the country revolve from its present situation.
This time I am convinced that the international community is right for delaying its external humanitarian assistance to the 'famine' stricken areas of Ethiopia. I understand that a surplus of food exists in other regions of Ethiopia and food continues to be exported from the country whilst many millions of people are abandoned and do not receive any of this distribution. Surely it is up to the Ethiopian government to take on more responsibility in this light and for the international community to ensure that internal resources are used first before injecting new resources into these areas.
I think all of these recurring famine relief efforts must be linked to promises by the country's government to control population.
What is the point of saving people if they just turn around and quadruple their population on the food you give them so that the disaster is that much worse the next time it doesn't rain?
Ross Berntsen, England
Blaming the west is a usual thing Ethiopian governments go for when failing to solve their internal problems which is caused by mismanagement, lack of commitment and advance planning practices. I believe that the current Ethiopian government could have done much had it not engaged itself into unwanted war with its former bed-mate, Eritrea. Blame the government in power for not acting at the early stage of the crisis not the western governments that were made aware of such crisis only recently.
M. Khalif, Canada
I honestly believe that even if the "West" (i.e. the U.S) were to pledge a billion dollars in aid to help Ethiopia, those people would still be suffering the same plight that they are now. Why? Because the Ethiopian government is perfectly willing to let millions of their countrymen die of starvation, while they squander such aid on military hardware. I'm sorry, but why should the U.S. be expected to deplete its resources in some futile attempt to give aid to a country ruled by a corrupt, inefficient government. The sad fact is millions of Ethiopians will die a horrible death from starvation, but the fault is not with the West but rather with the Ethiopians themselves.
Lily Wang, USA
To create a forum for people to debate as to who is to blame for the current sad situation in Ethiopia is being insensitive to the plight of Ethiopians who desperately need help. Save lives first and then we can afford the luxury of exercising our intellectual abilities to show who is to blame and who is not. Quite frankly, I do not see a side that is not blame to some extent.
Would we allow this to happen in our great empire? So why are we not pulling out every stop to help! Look at the eyes of the starving children and then look at your own children!
The BBC reported on the famine in Ethiopia tonight. In the same news bulletin, they also said that millions of pounds will be given to several cities to spend on fireworks on New Years Eve. This sort of waste must be happening all over the world in one form or another. It doesn't make sense that people can literally burn valuable money while there are children dying.
I think it may be time to reconsider the use of UN Protectorates. There are many places in the world with strife overlapping multiple jurisdictions - this begs for an international solution. Ethiopia and it's neighbours have all squandered resources in-trade for militarism. Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia would all fair better under a UN multi-national administration. A different but similar example is Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia in the 90s. In my view there is no other way to handle it, if local administrators just want to wage war. And peace, like war, does not come cheaply
I think the Ethiopian Government is responsible for plans to protect its people.
By the way, by how much has the current Ethiopian population grown since the last handout? Where does Ethiopia get money to wage war? How much does the effluent society of Ethiopia help - or do they just ride on the backs of the poor?
Nega Desta, Ethiopia
One thing should be very clear here; people are dying! Innocent children are passing away. But the so-called "western donors" are playing their rather inhuman political games. They want to black mail politics with precious lives of innocent children.
The world shouldn't forget that Ethiopia was once an emblem of pride and of justice and of charity in the arena of the world politics.
I am saddened by the hypocrisy of the West. Blaming the Ethiopian government is quite easy instead of sending help to the dying children.
The Ethiopian government warned several times of the problem before this time. And they also requested the West to have stopped the aggression from Eritrea. Two years has elapsed nothing has been done. What do expect when there is no justice from the leading super powers?
We, Ethiopians, never stopped from working hard but nature and our neighbours have collaborated against the peaceful people on this planet.
The Ethiopian government takes "Relief Aid" for granted. Primarily, the Ethiopian Government is responsible for this chaos. Hunger is no more a catastrophe in Ethiopia it is a routine phenomena.
I don't think the Ethiopian government could have done anything to make the rain fall over the last three years.
Who is to blame?
Today what the world is witnessing is just the continuation of the same process. In my opinion the world should open their eyes and ears and stop supporting the regime until the people are free. At the same time organise direct food delivery to the needy. This shouldn't stop here, a long term program to solve the problem should also be set.
Duula Guddaa, Kenya
Shame on western countries. It is a pity to see rich nations hesitate to forego small portion of their resources to save millions of lives in Ethiopia. But, with God's help, we will overcome the problems we have faced today.
Famine in Africa is always saddening. I shall donate, but it bothers me when African counties try and lay all the blame on Europe.
I think the Ethiopian Government is partially to be blamed. The government is using the drought as a weapon. Several months ago the Ethiopian's were pursuing the Ogadeni rebels across the border to Somalia.
I feel that most Western governments care little about poor African countries unless they have oil. We in the West are contributing to global warming. This is increasingly causing problems in third world countries
Food is not everything. If these people are fed everyday, they are going to get hungry everyday, but if they are given a trade they are going to be able to feed themselves when hungry. They have been given food aid for years, have we tried to put them to work yet?
The current situation in Ogaden region is responsible the Tigre regime because they terrorise the civilian people in Ogaden region and without stability, there is no solution in Ogaden region.
If there is any responsible international community on this planet, then they have, not only the moral obligation to help, but also are responsible for not helping to end the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, which donors are using as the main reason for the delay of relief.
Yalemzewd Negash, Ethiopia
The leading party (TPLF) in Ethiopia should be held responsible for the main cause of the famine. The TPLF has been diverting every wealth of Ethiopia to Tigray, instead of devolving the area where famine is most likely to happen.
I am from Ogaden region where is the worst hit by the droughts, however let us talk realistically, there is no government in Ethiopia. There is a small group known us Tigrean who control the economic institutions and military, they have done nothing about the drought. Instead they are monopolising people to wage a war against Eritrea for the border conflict. People of Ethiopia have no hope even if International Community gave food for the starving people, it may help temporarily, but people need more than that. They need development programs.
Mismanagement and lack of democratic representative government is a cause of Ethiopian famine. The government that fights with ten internal opponents and one external country spends the bulk of countries resources on armament is direct contributor and is the cause of starvation. The only solution to the crises is creation of representative government.
I do not know much about the West's reasoning behind giving or not giving aid but I must strongly condemn irresponsible statements like "there are peoples with irreconcilable conflicts" made by your "SIR" Geldof. This is absolutely not true. We can and we will reconcile our differences with our cousins if you and your meddling cousins will just let us alone.
When the guerrillas came to power overthrowing the Mengistu regime, it was expected by many, especially from outside Ethiopia that they would improve the situation for the people. The guerrilla leaders have an obligation primarily to their army and secondly to their ethnic group. The government has adamantly opposed repeated advice by economists to privatise land, which could have given confidence to the farmers and could have improved farming. Besides many of development programs have been centred on Tigray - where the guerrillas originate. The only way western countries can help Ethiopia is by contributing to the democratisation of the country, which could in turn help the food security effort. The country has millions hectares of fertile land and very hard working farmers. If the situation is made better they could feed the region.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have to be asked if they are ready to change. Are we ready
to shift from our stand-point or we are persistent on it? It is time to be
converted for both countries involved in conflict that there may be enhanced
The famine in Ethiopia is solely in the hands of the Ethiopia government.
Successive governments used famine as a political weapon or
(Hunger Politics) to stay in power, as long as there is a hand to bail them
out. Only last week Ethiopian government bought two Suke fighters from Russia. Is this a sensible and responsible government action in the face of famine? I do not think so. Eritrea accepted the peace process initiated by different bodies since the conflict began. While Ethiopia has been dragging its feet. It is high time the International community stopped funding Ethiopia's war machine.
The western world doesn't need to wait until the next catastrophe. 1.8 billion people are without clean water in the third world. Since one pump gives water to a village with 200 people, 9 million pump are needed. If sun ovens and solar cookers are produced and
distributed the forest doesn't need to be cut down and the ground water can
be saved at a higher level than now.
Europe has enough of unemployed people, and even technical knowledge, not
to talk about raw material to be able to fulfill such a project.
I'm getting sick of African
presidents blaming catastrophies such as the hunger situation inEthiopia on
the international community. Famine, unlike earthquake and sudden floods,
does not occur overnight. Apparently, the government of Ethiopia deems it
more important to fight over land (with her neighbor) for a starving and
dying people, instead of screaming for help to feed them. When resources
which could used in feeding hungry mouths are channeled into a senseless
war, this could be viewed as an abuse of their fundamental human rights.
I feel its a long time such crimes against the people is viewed on parallel
terms with those commited by people like Milosovic. The international
court of justice must begin to act. We should hoever not turn our back on
the innocent masses because of the stupid decisions of their leaders. We
should also desist from bringing the guilty to task!
The west is responsible: it has supported the current Ethiopian leadership and has provided tools which helped the regime silence Ethiopians who disagree with the war and the "divide and rule" ethnic policy of the regime. The Ethiopian leadership and its media today is spending enormous amounts of money, energy and time in a senseless war with Eritrea, rather than attending to the tragedy of the famine. Many Ethiopians are languishing in its prisons, government officials insist that there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia. While the international community should do its best to avert further tragedy, Ethiopians should also be given an opportunity to challenge and change the power structure of the present government of Ethiopia through the coming election.
As an American farmer it is all too obvious that the world has too much grain. It angers me to see children starve while grain prices are the lowest in history. The west has an obligation to provide this surplus to the starving. However we cannot be responsible for wars in Africa. The west needs to free itself from the corporate structure that is unfeeling to starving children and Africa needs to make the helpless a priority.
The famine is causing a lot of suffering among ethnic Somalis and the Addis government is spending incalculable amount of money on the war with Eritrea. I blame the Ethiopian government because they could have averted the disaster. What was obvious is that the rain did not materialise, and the condition of eastern Ethiopia could have foreseen. The international community should convince the government that the aid package will be handled by the local NGO's.
Your comments during the programme:
We have had a consistent flow of food aid into Ethiopia but we have never had enough to meet 100% of all the requirements across the country. There is not a famine all over Ethiopia. The crisis is in Somali region and is to do with the migration of people into towns.
In the mid-1980s the government forcibly implemented a villagisation programme and forcibly became employees of co-operatives. Today the government has been diverting every penny to develop the Northern region.
The government is clearly for its own ethnic group and no-one else. They are diverting money to the Tigray region. They are also diverting a lot of money on the war. They should have done something about it a long time ago.
I witnessed the famine in the mid-1980s. Many people died because information was hidden by the Mengistu military regime. The distribution system was inadequate. I saw food aid being sold at high prices in the market.
Eritrea has offered the use of a corridor for transport to ports. How viable is this offer?
The situation is very different to the famine of 1984-5. We learnt lessons from the operations then. This government worked hard to set up an emergency 'food bank'. The information-sharing is totally different now. The opening of the Asab port is something that we support however, that is a political issue between the two governments.
Blaming the international community for responding too little, too late, is not acceptable. The first responsibility lies with the regime in Addis.
If these droughts are going to recur on a regular basis surely the Ethiopian government should adopt a new permanent approach to food storage. If you put food into cans it lasts a number of years.
The government has been grappling with long-term food security policies. The international community did a
We have to differentiate between famine and drought. Famine is preventable but drought is not. Drought doesn't necessarily lead to famine.
I don't understand why a country with 3000 years of freedom and the longest river in the world has this kind of situation so often.
The government is to blame for diverting meagre resources to wage a war just for a dry piece of land in Tigray. They put one tribe against another just to stay in power. For years they have been feeding people with hatred.
As the late Emporer Haile Selassie once said careless Ethiopians will always starve. Famine comes about because of bad management of resources. Organisations like the World Food Programme and the UN should insist on a certain level of government to help the people. Resources are managed along tribal lines.
Your comments before we went ON AIR:
The famine in Ethiopia and the surrounding countries is all to do with the wars in the areas. If the Western countries really want to help, they should force the leaders of these countries stop the war. After all these countries are much weaker to resist like Serbia or Iraq. Starting a war for personal gains is crime against humanity, so for the sake of African peoples the west should enforce this.
I think the perpetrators of war in Ethiopia should be tried for war crimes. Their crude approach to diplomatic issues, pride, and extensive ignorance are the primary causes of this present famine and starvation. If any food is ever sent at all, make sure no government official or soldier will have any share of it.
Seems every other year the international community has to come to Ethiopia's aid over and over. Perhaps we should start to address the root causes of the famines rather than the immediate symptom? Seems to me the government in Ethiopia is at fault most of the time.
For how long is the international community going to turn a blind eye to the Ethiopian government's blunder and mismanagement of a potentially rich country. Not only that, the amount of money it is spending on planes, guns and tanks, makes a mockery of the international community's effort to save people from hunger. It is time to send a clear and loud ultimatum to the Ethiopian government to stop the war and focus on feeding its people under whose name it is fighting this 'useless war'
The plight of the Ethiopian people is appalling. What is even more appalling is that there trouble was not created by a natural phenomenon. The starvation in Ethiopia is a direct result of mismanagement by the government. Instead of allocating funds to be used for agricultural development they buy tanks. Instead of building a surplus of food to be used in times of need, they buy planes. The solution to this problem is getting rid of the present Ethiopian Government. We can't do this for the Ethiopians, they will have to do it for themselves. If we don't send them aid now it may encourage them to oust their present leaders. It will cause a lot of death now, but it will save lives in the future. If we keep bailing their government out nothing will change for them or us.
This is really a sad moment for us Ethiopians. It is true that the Europeans (not Americans) have been slow in responding to the current famine crisis. However blaming the donors is not right at all. Europe has absolutely no obligation to feed Ethiopians.
As far as me and many Ethiopians are concerned, the main fault lies squarely on the Ethiopian government. It is completely incapable of devising a viable agricultural policy that is sustainable. It is true that drought is the main contributing factor for the current famine. But, this should not be so. Ethiopia has large number of big rivers ("Blue Nile, Awash, Wabi Shebele" to mention few), lakes (like lake Tana) and ponds across the entire country that can be used to feed the entire population (60million) and beyond that. Instead, the govt. finds $1m a day to conduct the war against Eritrea.
As an Ethiopian, I am amazed that there is even a drought. The International Community can not be blamed when even Ethiopians in the Diaspora have been informed of the situation a few weeks back. Mind you, the Ethiopian Defence Minister was buying Mig fighters and Helicopter gun ships in January. Was that a responsible act from a government who is at war because it can not agree to a peace plan that asks for both sides to declare a cease-fire before demarcation? To me the problem is not the International community but the monumental ego of the Ethiopian leadership who does not seem to understand that it is leading a greatly impoverished country and can not act accordingly
I have seen some comments from people of African origin criticising Ethiopians for this famine. Ethiopia and Ethiopians are hardworking and descent people. They have, however, never been fortunate with governments; I suppose this applies to most African countries. The problem partly rests on the West as well. I believe, food self-sufficiency is a right for each individual wherever in the world. We should all do our best to fulfil this basic human right: not too much to ask....
It is rather a shame that certain countries and individuals in this
world have hoarded for themselves massive wealth while others have nothing.
The love of man is as cold as the North Pole. It's not like this world hasn't got the
capability to put pumps everywhere. Those entrusted with wealth (West) have failed this world miserably. I'm ashamed to be American.
We are not talking about the government we are talking about the Ethiopian children that are hungry. By helping them we are helping ourselves. Helping one another is the only tool we have to protect our humanity.
Blaming the international community isn't the solution to help the starving people. Think again. Wouldn't it make sense to stop the war with
neighbouring Eritrea and feed your own people rather than accusing the west for not doing your job?
The Ethiopian Government is the only one to blame for causing the famine that is happening right now. The government deported Eritrean citizens and put a lot of Ethiopians into to hunger. The whole thing is sad, I do not know when we Ethiopians will be able to start to depend on ourselves and have an uncorrupted government?
Instead of shopping for tanks and fighter planes, they should feed our people.
They have nobody to blame except themselves.
Ethiopian fellow, USA
Please stop criticising donors. A month ago the Ethiopian Government spent MILLIONS OF DOLLARS ON MIG-29 AND HELICOPTER FIGHTERS to fight against Eritrea. They could have used the money to buy food. We told you the Government doesn't care who is dying. We also told them to use our port to transport food but they rejected the proposal, why is that¿ They want to starve more people to death each day.
It is shameful for the Ethiopian Government to criticise the waste for slowing aid while they are spending thousands of dollars on an unnecessary war. The Government should first sign the peace proposal and make peace with its neighbours and use the money to feed its hungry people. I strongly suggest the international community especially the West should urge Ethiopia to ask the OAU peace proposal and stop warring on its innocent citizens. Our country's natural resource should be used to feed our hungry citizens not to make unattainable dreams. We have fought for many years that is enough. We do need war we need peace and tranquillity to feed our people and progress our country.
I am shocked at the insensitivity of people in developed countries who, like the Finnish reader, pontificate that "you cannot have a nation that has to be bailed out and rescued every 10 years". Someone like him cannot possibly understand suffering of any kind. If Finland were situated where Ethiopia is, and suffered all the vagaries of climate and weather, then we shall see if the rest of the insensitive, luxury-drunk developed world bothers to "bail it out" each time it suffers a famine.
It would be so easily considered inhumane to restrict food aid to civilians in order to achieve a lasting and peaceful border. Could food restriction actually accomplish this? The border dispute grew to encompass targets not in the disputed areas since they supply the respective war machines. We should do what we can to stop this war. We have at our disposal incredibly accurate geographic maps. Find where pro-Eritreans and pro-Ethiopians lived, ask strongly for Ertitrea and Ethiopia to accept an international arbitration to decide a line of best fit. For those locals who end up on the "wrong" side of the line to move (home or land swapping) or accept naturalization in one of the two countries.
I think the Ethiopian government has no basis in blaming the donors. I strongly believe that Ethiopians should not be given free food every ten years. For how long are we going to feed countries that keep all its resources for military purposes instead of helping its people to increase the food production. I have personally travelled to Ethiopia and it has very fertile land and I can't understand why Ethiopia has to be fed by others. I am an African, but I believe this is a case of African stupidity - Misappropriating your own resources and then asking donors all the time for aid just like - Kenya and Zimbabwe.
It is high time that the world stopped discussing and debating on these issues, people are dying, they DO NOT need to hear who is to blame for the "too little, too late" argument, they need food, and words alone are not sufficient to provide that!
Possibly the Ethiopians would consider ending the stupid war with Eritrea and spend more time and money on their citizens. This would be more helpful than blaming the west.
Where are all the anti-globalisation campaigners now? It is our tendency to "leave alone" which causes these problems. Yes, let's give aid now, but let's also discuss how to modernise Africa. The Ethiopians are not our pets, they are very capable people just like us, and given the right tools and encouragement they can learn to help themselves via democracy, free trade, and industry.
Abdurazak Mudesi, Ethiopia
The West can no longer provide quick fixes to the starvation problem in Africa. It is long past due for the West to provide a long term commitment to this nation, to help establish it's place in the global market economy. The only way the West and African leaders can help achieve this is by ridding this nation of it's tyrannical war lords so that the aide that is given gets to the people instead of making the war lords rich. Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. Hopefully the EU conference will get things moving in the right direction.
What are the priorities in life?
What are our Government's priorities? Where is the EEC or the United States? Where is Gordon Brown's 'War Chest'?
Where is Claire Short? Where are the Television cameras and reporters? Where is the Christian Aid, Save the Children, CAFOD teams? Where is the publicity?
I suppose everyone has much more important things to do.
Even though the donor countries have a moral obligation to save the hungry, the Ethiopian government has no right whatsoever to criticise the donors.
This and previous Ethiopian governments have had all the time in the world to rectify the repeated famine in their country. They have not done so but preferred either internal or external military exercises. I have no sympathy whatsoever for their call again and would not support any help unless they immediately stopped all armed exercises, sold the military hardware to those who can better afford such games and used the military reserves and obtained money to feed and relocate the innocent people of their country.
I feel sorry for the ordinary Ethiopian people who cannot be held accountable for the situation but it has to change. You cannot have a nation that has to be bailed out and rescued every 10 years.
05 Apr 00 | Africa
UN to distribute Ethiopia aid
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