Assumptions challenged: Ethiopian famine, and Irish discontent

Colin Legum's article ``Ethiopia and West Clash over Famine,'' May 6, attributes ``the first independent investigation into conditions of resettlement'' to ``Survival International, a Boston-based association.'' Cultural Survival, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit organization was in fact responsible for the study. The study also focused on the causes of famine and the impact of the resettlement program as well as those evicted. Research on the causes of the famine is not allowed in Ethiopia, so it was confined to refugees who fled to the Sudan. Our survey is the largest undertaken by any agency on the causes of famine in Ethiopia. Below are the major findings; a report will be released soon.

Drought is not the primary cause of the famine. Individuals consistently reported that they had lived through drier times without suffering so much. Insects and the agricultural and military policies of the government are the primary causes of famine.

Taxes on small farmers in the north and the southwest have increased by 500 percent since 1977. Forced, voluntary contributions are equal in value or greater than taxes.

In the north, the Ethiopian Army has systematically sabotaged food production by attacking when people are planting and harvesting.

More than 300,000 victims have been resettled. None interviewed went voluntarily and most had produced enough grain and livestock in 1984 to be self-sufficient for the coming year.

The government has not budgeted a penny for the resettlement program. Local, Oromo residents of the resettlement sites, referred to as uninhabited, have been forced to give the newcomers their homes, crops, tools, oxen, plows, and pay three years of taxes and ``voluntary'' contributions in advance.

Our findings challenge a number of assumptions disseminated in the media. They also indicate that humanitarian agencies should probe the causes of famine in Ethiopia while they are rushing assistance to the area. If the famine is not ``natural,'' as our survey indicates, but is rather the result of policies of the Ethiopian regime, then there are serious questions about how assistance fits into the government's long-term political plans. Jason W. Clay, Director of Research Cultural Survival Cambridge, Mass.

David Winder (International Edition April 20-26) asks whether ``Protestants in Northern Ireland, who retain their allegiance to the British Crown,'' would ever accept the Republic [``Ireland struggles against crime and bad economy'']. But what of the Catholics who prefer the U.K.?

Northern Ireland's status within the U.K. is based on the democratic will and self-determination. It is illusory to suppose that opposition to a United Ireland is due to hatred of Rome, not love for the Crown, and that Northern Ireland may be seduced by permissive legislation. Papist and Paisleyite are at one against abortion.

A United Ireland is only feasible within the closer unity of the British Isles. The two sovereign powers already exchange a common citizenship. Voting rights enjoyed by Irish citizens in the U.K. are to be made reciprocal. The British Isles are a Common Travel (no passports) Area. Few states have so much in common.

Instead of trying to substitute one flag for another or erase a border which the U.K.'s and the Republic's membership of the EEC makes much less of a frontier, the Kingdom and the Republic should build on what Mrs. Thatcher calls a ``unique relationship'' to form, with mutual respect for sovereignty, a Community of the Islands. And thus may the Irish be united. John Biggs-Davison, MP London

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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