Update. The African Famine

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Developments on the world's war on African famine: An uproar of protest at a decision to end a European Community famine grain reserve of 500,000 tons.

More details of how Live Aid/Band Aid/USA For Africa money is being spent.

A new plan to revive a little-known but crucial rail line to carry famine grain from Djibouti into Ethiopia.

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Background to all three developments: more rain across much of Africa south of the Sahara. Government and private relief officials hopeful Africa will need less food relief next year (early United States prediction for Ethiopia: 911,000 tons needed for aid and commercial purchase, against 2.4 million tons this year). But Western donors will still need to give generously.

The uproar:

It started Sept. 18 when European Community finance ministers in Brussels cut 1986 EC food aid budget by $168.3 million. Cut included $130.4 million for emergency reserve stock of 500,000 tons of grain set up to meet famine needs next year. Reserve had been specifically approved by EC summit in Milan in June.

Why the cut? Britain, West Germany, and France, who urged it, want EC spending cut across board. Also, Ian Gow, Britain's EC minister, is reported to have explained it this way: ``We have reports that the rains have begun, and have been substantial.''

Mr. Gow's words triggered alarm bells around the European Commission in Brussels (which proposed the budget and its reserve) and private aid agencies in Europe.

In Britain, Oxfam director Frank Judd fired off a letter to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: ``True, the rains have been better this year but it's too early to tell if they are adequate . . . no room for complacency . . . very serious damage to the environment, particularly the topsoil . . . at best emergency aid will diminish over coming years but won't suddenly vanish . . . the future greatly disturbs us.' '

Other private aid officials stress rain's impact on flooding roads and cutting rail lines. Sources within the European Commission tell the Monitor: ``The battle isn't over yet. The budget goes to European Parliament, which can reject it. This is an opening skirmish, not a complete victory.''

Ireland and Denmark voted to save the reserve. Irish Minister of State Jim O'Keefe: The decision was ``utterly unacceptable.'' A number of Parliament members say they will order reserve reinstated.

Next step: Parliament debate in Strasbourg, France, in November.

Live Aid/Band Aid/USA for Africa:

Recent meetings in Washington between Kevin Jendren, Band Aid director in London, officials with USA for Africa, and with Agency for International Development (AID).

AID officials impressed with Band Aid seriousness. ``They're trying use their money to leverage more from us, and we do same to them -- it's all useful,'' said AID official after talks.

US decided give $7.5 million to lease 250 trucks for Ethiopian UN office. USA For Africa providing $1 million for trucks. Live Aid giving $1 million to UN World Food Program (WFP) for trucks to carry grain to central, north, and east Sudan. AID providing trucks to Live Aid contractors to take food to the suffering in far western Sudan.

US AID official in Washington: ``Yes, it's raining in western Ethiopia, but roads are still quagmires, and rail lines cut. Distributing grain is difficult.''

Djibouti rail line:

Runs 470 miles from Red Sea to Ethiopia's Dire Dawa northeast of Addis Ababa. Grain donors prefer larger port of Assab in Ethiopia. Now WFP looking for $1.8 million to repair engines, wagons, and track. India and Switzerland showing some interest.

Only 350,400 tons grain a day leaving Djibouti port right now. Port backlog: a small 7,440 tons. French experts hired by WFP report: Six of line's 25 engines, and 90 of its 400 wagons, don't work. Djibouti doesn't tell Dire Dawa quickly enough when trains coming: Dire Dawa lacks storage and skills for fast unloading. -A correction: the Aug. 13 Update reported that Save The Children believed 35,000 tons of grain were ``backlogged'' in Sudan. It should have said that 35,000 tons of grain were thought to have been distributed in Sudan's Darfur Province.- This column, keeping readers abreast of the famine and relief efforts, will appear most Fridays.

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