The world's richest nations this week patted themselves on the back for having helped ease the suffering caused by famine in sub-Saharan Africa. But they found little hope for resolving the continent's worsening economic problems in the medium to long term. In Africa, more than 30 million people in 20 countries face serious food shortages.
``The African famine constitutes one of the great tragedies of our time,'' Canada's secretary of state for external affairs, Joe Clark, told the annual, two-day ministerial meeting of the 24-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). ``The extent of its impact on the population of sub-Saharan Africa is staggering.''
That point was echoed by almost every minister and senior government official addressing the meeting on Thursday. Kenneth W. Dam, United States deputy secretary of state, said that the blame for the suffering cannot be laid solely on the drought that has devastated large parts of the African continent.
``Inappropriate national policies and mismanagement too often aggravate shortfall in food production and in efficiencies in distribution,'' according to Mr. Dam. ``We see in Africa the need for immediate humanitarian assistance, domestic policy reform, and improved long-term assistance programs.''
He said that US assistance to the sub-Saharan African countries will exceed $2 billion this year.
Japanese Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, who recently visited several African countries, said ``I was severely shocked by the misery, which defies description.''
Some countries used the occasion of the widely publicized meeting to announce new aid commitment to the continent. The Canadian government, for example, said that it will be providing more than $620 million during fiscal 1985-86. The Australians pledged new contributions totaling $40 million.
No country suggested that the West's efforts to help sub-Saharan Africa recover from its increasing misery should be limited to financial handouts and humanitarian aid. But many ministers recommended that the West stick with methods that have been tried in the past but that so far have proved ineffective.
``The most urgent'' measures, said West Germany's Foreign Minister Hans-Dietriech Genscher, ``are to intensify North-South cooperation, enable all countries to participate to an increasing extent in the present economic recovery, and to create the basic international economic conditions conducive to growth.''
Other ministers echoed the Reagan administration call for a wide-ranging but vague combination of measures, including domestic reform in many African countries, trade liberalization in the West aimed at increasing imports from third-world countries, sustained levels of foreign investment, and a more stable international economic system.
The longstanding plan to hold a new round of global negotiations designed to settle the third world's problems in one fell swoop was buried once and for all. As a senior Dutch government official put it: ``It has become clear that this all-embracing approach couldn't cope with the growing diversity among developing countries.''