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Update, The African famine

By David K. WillisStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 6, 1985



London

Africa-wide, the famine news is both good and bad. The good: The rains have been solid -- in some places, best in 10 years. Total harvests: up by 76 percent.

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Relief grain needs from abroad next year: cut in half.

Rain plus outside aid has saved countless lives.

The bad: Rains have blunted famine's edge, but not removed it. In Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, and Botswana, large pockets of famine still exist where rains fell lightly or not at all.

Eight to 10 million people are still on the edge of starvation in Ethiopia and Sudan alone -- ``better than the 15 million last year, but still tragically high,'' says Paddy Coulter of the private British relief agency Oxfam.

Adds Coulter: ``There's no room for complacency. Harvests in many areas are small. Famine could come again to millions next spring unless we all plan now.''

In 21 hardest-hit countries, grain production up from 3.8 million tons last year to about 6.7 million tons this year, according to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. Need for food aid has dropped from 7 million tons to 3.2 million, FAO says.

Don't forget Africa in 1986: FAO, UN, the United States Agency for International Development (AID), and private relief agencies all chorus same message: ``Don't be complacent. Don't think one season's good rains wipe out years of drought and famine.''

Ethiopia: Good but patchy rains pushed harvest up, but country will still be 700,000 to 900,000 tons short. Five million people still at risk from starvation, says rock star turned fund-raiser Bob Geldof. Private relief agencies agree. Eritrea and Tigre, where secessionists fight civil war, had poor crops. FAO: ``Immense seed shortages, and no animals left to plough.''

Aid pluses:

Africa's biggest private truck fleet for relief grain finally moving. First 40 truck-trailers rolled 360 miles from Red Sea port of Assab to Kembolcha in Wollo late November, arriving Nov. 29 with more than 1,000 tons grain. Fleet operated by UN World Food Program. First 40 financed by Band Aid in Britain, founded by Mr. Geldof. Penny Jenden of Band Aid says 14 more trucks due soon. All 54 bought in Kuwait. Target: 100 truck-trailers in all. Band Aid paying $1.3 million in costs.

AID leasing 150 long-haul truck-trailers from World Vision relief agency. AID sources in Washington report 73 trucks and 135 trailers now in Assab. AID paying $15 million for trucks and running costs.

US has already pledged 200,000 tons of food aid for Ethiopia for fiscal 1986. US will supply one-third of total emergency food needs.

Last week government did much better in moving grain from Assab: 30,165 tons, at a rate of about 4,300 tons a day, three times as much as two months ago.

Aid minuses:

Friction between Washington and military Marxist government in Addis Ababa worsened by expulsion of the French private agency Doctors Without Borders.

Ethiopia has resumed controversial plan to resettle northerners to the south. US calls it political move to weaken Eritrean, Tigrean guerrillas. Government also ordering tribes out of homes, into central villages.

Sudan: Harvest is record 4.6 million tons, FAO says, against 1.5 million last year. Food needs for 1986: about 700,000 tons, half of last year's figure. About 400,000 tons of it urgently needed in far western Kordofan and Darfur areas. Could all be met from surpluses in other parts of Sudan.

FAO appealing to donors for cash to buy and move surpluses, and wheat aid which Khartoum could swap for relatively plentiful locally-grown sorghum for deficit areas including Red Sea Hills.

UN and private agencies want AID to commit more grain aid to Sudan. US has committed 1.5 million tons relief grain to all Africa since Oct. 1 -- half the record total of 3 million it committed in previous year.

The Sahel: Good rains, much better outlook, most countries able to feed themselves next year. Harvests: up to 6.7 million tons, from 3.8 million last year. But farmers still need some aid, especially in long-term improvements. US says African governments need to offer more incentives and better pricing systems.