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The BBC's Rageh Omaar
"Every day in Eastern Ethiopia people are dying"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 5 April, 2000, 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK
Aid to Ethiopia 'too slow'
Ethiopia says there should be no more delays in aid
Ethiopia has accused the international community of not responding quickly enough to calls for food supplies to head off famine in the Horn of Africa.

This is Africa and the situation in Africa always gets a response from Europe or the international community when people start to see skeletons on screens

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said the international community had been far too slow to react to the warnings of looming starvation it issued in December, and was using the war with Eritrea as a pretext for delaying aid.

Speaking at the Africa-Europe summit in Cairo, Mr Seyoum said people were on the verge of disaster.

He added that the international community was waiting until news of disaster appeared on television.

"This is Africa and the situation in Africa always gets a response from Europe or the international community when people start to see skeletons on screens," he said.

The British relief group Oxfam said aid for Ethiopia was not arriving fast enough and accused the European Union of dragging its feet.

"The EC [European Commission] failed to meet its commitment last year, providing little more than half the food it promised. It is now more than one year behind on its pledges," Oxfam said.


Mr Seyoum said Ethiopia was ready to deliver international food by truck as soon as it arrived.

The arrid Ogaden is worst hit
Rejecting an EU warning that the Ethiopia-Eritrea war would hamper the delivery of food, Mr Seyoum said: "Access is absolutely not the problem. No food aid has arrived in the region."

He said the worst affected areas were in south-east Ethiopia where there is no fighting.

"People should focus on the real problem - that the international community's response is getting very slow," he added.

Criticism rejected

The British minister responsible for overseas aid, Clare Short, rejected the accusations from the Ethiopian Government.

Speaking at the end of the Africa-Europe summit, she said it was extraordinary criticism from a government that was wasting resources on what she said was a useless border war with Eritrea.

She said the international community should help with relief aid, but must also put pressure on the Ethiopian and Eritrean Governments to make peace.

EU Development Commissioner Poul Nielsen said he believed the fighting was a factor hindering the delivery of aid.

"If we had peace and normal relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea, then the harbour of Masawa would also be available and the problem more manageable," he said.

Mr Nielsen said he had discussed the crisis with the presidents of Eritrea and Djibouti, as well as with Mr Seyoum.

He said Europe was making urgent plans, together with other donors, to send some 800,000 tonnes of food aid to Ethiopia.

"We have people from the European Commission on site in the Horn of Africa today trying to assess the situation," Mr Nielsen said. "It is indeed a major operation."

Worst areas

The failure of the rains for three years in succession has placed millions at risk.

Already deaths and serious cases of malnutrition are occuring in the arrid Ogaden region in the south-east of the country.

This comes in spite of the fact that the mainly nomadic population is used to hardship at the best of times.

Aid workers warn the situation in the northern highlands is potentially far more serious.

After poor harvests relief food is being distributed there now but with so little aid in the pipeline delivering food in the middle of the year will be much more difficult.

Much has changed since the terrible famine of the 1980s but with irregular weather patterns food security can never be guaranteed.

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See also:

05 Jan 00 | Africa
Is aid really helping?
21 Mar 00 | Africa
Rain failures threaten Horn
13 Sep 99 | Africa
World Bank aid blow for Horn
03 Sep 99 | Americas
Mounting famine threat in Ethiopia
13 Jul 99 | Americas
New aid appeal for Ethiopia
23 Jun 99 | Africa
Hunger fear for Horn of Africa
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