Coming together on African hunger

THE news from the African hunger front remains both heartening and challenging. It is heartening because of the success musical groups are having in raising funds to provide food and other supplies to thousands of hungry people in several African nations. And because of the plans for future fund-raisers.

Just this week the first 240,000 pounds of food, clothing, tents, and medicine arrived in Ethiopia and Sudan, paid for by $3 million raised from sales of the ``We Are the World'' record. Sales of that song thus far have raised $45 million for hunger relief.

Future musical benefit performances have been announced. The stars on Yugoslavia's pop music scene plan a similar recording in their country, with proceeds earmarked for famine relief. Next month pop and rock music performers will hold a cross-Atlantic concert in Philadelphia and London to raise funds for the same purpose. By themselves, British rock musicians have already raised $10 million.

But the situation in Africa itself remains challenging. An insufficient amount of food is getting through to Tigre and Eritrea, rebel-held sections of northeastern Ethiopia, months after the region's plight became known. The politics of hunger continues: Ethiopia's Marxist government seeks to combat the rebels in part by using hunger as a weapon and keeping gift food out of rebel-held areas. Other nations, eager to improve relations with Ethiopia, are unwilling to circumvent the Ethiopian blockade in a significant way.

The lack of adequate transport remains a key problem. Adequate stocks of food are piled up in Sudanese and Ethiopian ports, but too few trucks are available to carry them inland to the hungry. There are differing perspectives on why more trucks don't exist; to the hungry, however, such debates are irrelevant.

Although rains have come to Eritrea and other areas of Ethiopia, farmers still lack the seeds, tools, and farm animals needed for planting: These, too, are not getting through in sufficient quantities. Farmers returning to Eritrea from relief camps in the Sudan need deliveries of all three to take advantage of the falling rains.

People now involved in relief work say that in the long run more useful assistance could be given, at less cost, if food and other required items were trucked not to central relief stations, but to rural areas where so many Ethiopians and Sudanese live. That way the farmers would be able to stay on their farms and cultivate next year's crops even while they were receiving the needed food for this year.

By contrast, when farmers of whatever country leave the countryside in great quantities for the relief camps, they are not able to plant the new year's crops, thus immediately decreasing their nation's food supply for the subsequent year. Whenever possible it would be preferable to aid people where they are, rather than forcing them to migrate.

It is food for thought for people responsible with turning the profit from record sales and concerts into sustenance for Africa's hungry.

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