New Ways to Meet a Famine

The last time a famine hit Ethiopia, it triggered the global hit song, "We Are the World," which raised money to feed millions.

Now, 15 years later, another famine looms over Ethiopia, with hundreds of people having perished so far.

This time, however, the famine's causes and solutions are interestingly different. Please, no songs, say famine fighters.

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Rather, efforts to prevent starvation have become more complex as the world gets better at it.

Satellite images can better predict weather patterns such as drought, which has hit the Horn of Africa for the past two years. Better communications allow faster deliveries to the most needy. Aid workers have learned PR, helping the media run images of hungry people that evoke compassion and open wallets. And the international community has set up a food reserve for Ethiopia.

But all these preemptive steps cannot overcome a major obstacle: war.

Ethiopia and its smaller neighbor, Eritrea, are spending heavily for a border war that hinders food delivery, eats up state resources to prevent hunger, and makes it politically difficult for donors to stock up the food reserve.

Despite the war - and Ethiopia's refusal to let aid come through Eritrean ports - the West has wisely pledged to add 700,000 metric tons to the food reserve. Such generosity, however, must come with renewed pressure to end the war.

The food donation also shows that the world can respond to famine alerts, and not just famine. With no graphic images of mass starvation this time - due to the new early warning system - aid agencies must learn new ways to win compassion, even as old obstacles like war still stand in the way.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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