A recent trip to Mozambique and Ethiopia, two countries hit hardest by famine , confirmed my deepest fears. Elders and babies, mothers and young men are dying because we have not provided them with enough food.
In Mozambique, where about 100,000 deaths from starvation were reported in 1983, I saw men, women, and children foraging for leaves, grass, and bugs because there was no other food. Ethiopian officials told me of a food distribution camp where each day an average of 33 people succumb to starvation.
The United Nations estimates that 100 million to 150 million Africans now face severe food shortages in 24 nations. Despite this, US responses to the immediate food needs in Africa have been erratic, ill-timed, and less than adequate.
Starvation is preventable! The United States is able to get the food where it is needed, if it is willing! Contrary to official US no-cause-for-alarm expressions during the first quarter of 1984, the African famine is out of control and most private relief experts warn that it will worsen.
Nevertheless, an uncontroversial and sorely needed $60 million food aid bonus for Africa has lain dormant in Congress for more than two months because administration allies attached controversial Central American military aid amendments to it. The $60 million supplement is important to Africa, but not the pending military aid packages.
There must also be an increase in the 1985 food aid appropriations to Africa of at least $150 million to raise next year's funding up to 1984 levels. Without this additional money, Congress probably would have to wrestle with requests again when money runs out after Christmas.
Food aid, however, will not be very effective unless nonfood aid - trucks, fuel, spare parts - also is supplied.
We must be prepared to fly in shipments of food to Africa's remote regions if necessary. We must undergird transportation, thus guaranteeing food for mothers too nutritionally depleted to nurse their children and for children crippled by malnutrition. We must move food supplies more rapidly and systematically.
Reports indicate that for every $3 million of food aid, $1 million is needed for transportation. The US has delivered or committed $140 million in food aid to Africa this year but has expected it to be moved from ports to very remote areas with only $8 million in logistical support.
The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has an annual $25 million account for nonfood needs worldwide, but the money was virtually depleted long before the end of the 1984 fiscal year. They could put to good use a $100 million increase in nonfood emergency aid for 1985.
And what about long-term aid for Africa?
The Reagan administration's $500 million Economic Policy Initiative (EPI) will help Africa in the years to come if funds are targeted not only to economic growth but to growth with equity, so that the poorest people in recipient countries get direct benefits as well as the elite. EPI must not, however, become a substitute for emergency food supplies. Long-term aid should not be used as a cover-up for lagging short-term relief aid.
We are able to do these things. But are we willing?
On the eve of the 30th anniversary celebration of the US Food for Peace program July 10, I call upon President Reagan to make a more comprehensive and equitable commitment to the 24 African nations affected by famine.
Mr. Reagan stood on the shores of Normandy earlier this month and posed as Europe's military savior and peacekeeper. He should also come forward and promise US humanitarian aid resources to deliver millions from the horrors of starvation.
The administration, the Congress, and the American people must demand swift action, now. To debate and confer and delay emergency food and nonfood aid supplies leaves totally in the lurch millions depending on us for support.