Aiding Ethiopia

Planes and ships from Western nations and the Soviet Union are bringing needed grain and transport vehicles to Ethiopia. It is a warming response to a wrenching situation.

At the same time, some observers credit the Ethiopian government relief agency with thus far working hard to alleviate the hunger, a welcome shift from the past.

The challenges remain immense, however. Efforts of the contributing nations should be streamlined as much as possible so that the enormous amounts of food provided do not overwhelm the capacity of the Ethiopian Relief and Rehabilitation Commission to distribute it. As an aid, it may be wise for more American foodstuffs to be distributed through private agencies.

The primitive condition of interior airports, roads, and ports currently poses the major distribution hurdle, now that trucks and transport are available. The Marxist Ethiopian government, fighting a long insurrection in the north, must not be permitted to withhold grain from the hungry there: Rebels now charge the government with not sending foodstuffs to rebel-controlled areas.

Other areas of hunger in Africa also are becoming recognized, particularly Chad and Mozambique. People here, too, are in urgent need of the world's surplus food.

This is not a short-term problem. Ethiopia, for instance, will need a consistent and sizable inflow of grain for a minimum of 12 months, until the next harvest is due. How much food it will need thereafter will be influenced by the size of next year's crop. That, in turn, will depend substantially on whether the long-running drought has been alleviated.

Satellite photographs, coupled with other information, record that African croplands are even drier this year than last. The photographs show where the driest areas of all are, enabling specialists to realize where short-term food requirements will be greatest. The world's food exporters should use this information to pre-position stocks of food near areas of shortage, so that it will be readily available as the need arises.

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