Aid the starving in Ethiopia

Finding fault: Drought, famine, war go hand in hand, each making the others worse.

April 28, 2000

ALL POSSIBLE AID should be rushed to alleviate starvation in Ethiopia, where some 8 million lives, one-eighth of the population, are in peril.

The United States and nongovernment agencies should not stint or place conditions. Most of the food needed has been pledged. Relatively little has been delivered.

The famine that shows skeletons protruding through skin of people barely alive came inexorably, with advance notice. Three years of drought prepared it. Diversion of food reserves to neighboring countries exacerbated it. Economic reconstruction, for nonagricultural means with which to buy food, would take decades.

But while begging for food, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi diverted spending to the border war with Eritrea. He disputes every effort to link the war to starvation. The two are linked.

The port of Assab in Eritrea was improved with international aid to handle food, but goes unused. Landlocked Ethiopia wants development of independent Djibouti instead, through which it also imports war material. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged donor nations not to tie aid to the war. "We cannot punish children for what the leaders of these countries have done," he said.

His emissary, World Food Program director Catherine Bertini said, "There is only one long-term relief if there is man-made disaster. That is peace."

The war is on hold. Negotiations are scheduled in neutral Algeria. The area in dispute does not appear vital to either nation. Right is not discernible on either side.

Short-term aid must be accompanied by strong pressure for a settlement between two countries, whose geography and kinship demand cooperation.

Neither the long-term solution nor immediate relief can succeed otherwise.

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