Keeping the aid to Ethiopia coming

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THE question of Ethiopian aid is once again on Washington's agenda. Past aid has made an important difference. In estimating that 7 million Ethiopians were saved by such help, a recent report for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Policy calls it ``a remarkable success story of international relief.''

But much remains to be done, or many of the lives saved will be lost. Even if this summer's expected big rains occur, farmers will still need seeds to plant and food rations to get them through the pre-harvest season.

There have been modest improvements in relations between the United States and Ethiopia.

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But legislation now moving through the House of Representatives would add Ethiopia to the Foreign Assistance Act's list of communist countries. It would not only cut US aid but limit the ability of private American organizations to work in Ethiopia.

With a population of 42 million people, Ethiopia is rightly considered one of the poorest countries on earth. It has a long history of ethnic and religious strife. Its top leadership is Marxist, and it is often ruthless in methods employed to carry out policies most Americans consider misguided.

Reports of alleged abuses in the food distribution program have led to the suspicion that emergency aid may have been misused. But the United Nations, the US Embassy in Ethiopia, and the US Agency for International Development all agree that the contributions of the American people have been put to good use.

In all of our Save the Children activities there, we have never been hampered or harassed.

Despite philosophical differences, we have found that, in areas of the country where we work, it has been possible for us to receive food at the port, transport it directly to the 300,000 people we are responsible for feeding, and distribute it unhampered. We have brought in thousands of tons of food. None of it has in any way been diverted.

Ethiopians have been deeply moved by the concern and support that have come pouring in from the West. They understand that this phenomenon transcends geopolitics.

In fact, following expressions of international concern, the Ethiopian government has suspended its controversial program of resettling families from the impoverished north to more fertile areas in the south and west.

It also appears that the policy of ``villageization,'' in which people are moved from their homes into central locations, has been brought to a standstill.

Debate about such concerns as resettlement has led to a perception that the great outpouring of support from individuals and governments has not yet reached Ethiopia's needy people. It has reached them -- on an unprecedented scale.

Save the Children and its sister voluntary agencies hope that the US Congress and public will continue to support one of the most extraordinary people-to-people efforts in history.

David L. Guyer is president of Save the Children Federation, a US-based private voluntary relief and development agency.

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