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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Tough job ahead in Ethiopia
Ethiopian child
Children are particularly vulnerable
By BBC News Online's Emma Batha

Now that more than one million tonnes of food has been earmarked for Ethiopia, the problem is how to get it to the starving.

The border war with Eritrea, banditry in the south and appalling roads are just some of the challenges ahead for aid workers.

Ethiopia is landlocked and in the past has relied on two ports in Eritrea, Assab and Massawa. But it stopped using these after the war began in 1998.

You've got four weeks before this becomes a disaster

Sir Bob Geldof, fundraiser for 1985 famine

Aid agencies would like to persuade the warring sides to open a humanitarian corridor from Assab, which has good road connections to the affected areas.

But Ethiopia has already dismissed an offer by Eritrea to use the port as a public relations "gimmick", and has accused its neighbour of stealing past food aid.

This leaves two smaller ports in Djibouti and Somalia. But both are served by extremely poor roads which could cause major delays in getting food to the starving.

Judith Lewis, regional representative for the World Food Programme, said the road from Somalia's Berbera port was so badly potholed that on some stretches it took trucks an hour to travel just 10-20km.

Most of the food aid is expected to go via Djibouti, where work is underway to increase the monthly handling capacity from 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes.

However, none of the three berths is large enough to take the biggest of the cargo ships expected in the coming weeks. These will have to anchor outside the port and off load the aid onto smaller boats.

Ms Lewis said they also hope to use Port Sudan, which is much larger, but imminent rains could make the route into northern Ethiopia impassable.

Although the US and Red Cross are flying in some food, this is expensive and not practical for major aid deliveries.


Relief workers fear the border conflict with Eritrea could also hamper distribution, once the aid arrives.
Drought in the Horn Numbers affected
1973 Ethiopia 3m
1984 Sudan 8.4m
1984 Ethiopia 7.8m
1991 Sudan 8.6m
1991 Ethiopia 6.2m
1992 Kenya 2.7m

They are worried that trucks needed to transport the grain may be diverted to the war effort.

The fighting itself is reasonably contained and is not expected to jeopardise deliveries directly.

But banditry and vicious fighting between clans in Ogaden, in the south, and over the border in Somalia, is a grave problem.

There is the danger that people distributing food could be attacked and supplies looted.

Several local aid workers have been killed in Ogaden in recent months.

War lords

Ms Lewis said drivers had to be chosen very carefully to ensure they would be accepted by clans along their delivery route, and had to be swapped on long journeys passing through areas controlled by different warlords.
ethiopian child
Some people walk for two weeks to get aid

"If the drivers are from a different clan it's very unsafe," she added.

"Several have lost their lives over the last few months because they were not accepted by clans operating in that area."

The WFP has no international staff in the south because of the security problems and relies on local organisations to distribute food.


But it is not just the security situation that makes transporting food so problematic.

Ethiopia has barely any infrastructure and most routes are little more than dirt tracks.
food aid
1.2m tonnes of aid is expected

According to the charity Save the Children, 70% of the rural population do not even have access to a road.

Ms Lewis said she had heard reports of people walking for two weeks to reach aid distribution points.

"The people in the south are nomads and travel over great expanses so it's very difficult to get food assistance close to them," she added.

The condition of the roads also slows down distribution and the food trucks have to undergo frequent repairs because of the wear and tear caused by driving over continuous potholes.

The road from Djibouti to Ethiopia is abysmal when it rains

Judith Lewis, WFP

US aid official Hugh Parmer, who recently visited the region, said it was questionable whether the Djibouti route could take the additional traffic, which is expected to increase from 400 to 1,000 trucks a day once the first shipments arrive.

But even if it can, like many other roads it could become impassable when the summer rains arrive.

Aid agencies have stressed that food must be distributed by July.

It is a cruel irony that, unless the aid gets through fast, Ethiopia's famine could be exacerbated by the very rains the country needs so badly.

See also:

05 Apr 00 | Africa
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31 Mar 00 | Africa
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03 Apr 00 | Africa
31 Mar 00 | Africa
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