THE requirements of aiding Africa's hungry have shifted. International generosity has brought large quantities of food to ports and central cities in Ethiopia and the Sudan, the nations with the largest numbers of hungry people. At the moment sufficient food exists in those countries to take care of feeding requirements for the near term -- if it can be delivered. The newest area of urgency is western Sudan. Many thousands of Sudanese require food rations, but a transportation bottleneck is a serious impediment to distribution. The United Nations estimates that some 250,000 tons of food sits on docks in Port Sudan; little can be delivered, however, because of a shortage of trucks and cargo planes, and inadequate rail facilities.
Western nations and individuals have been extremely generous in giving money for food. Urgently required now are funds to buy or rent additional trucks, as well as improve the rail system. International relief agencies find it substantially more difficult to raise funds for transportation costs than for food, yet that is where the bottleneck exists that prevents the short-term easing of hunger in parts of Africa.
In much of Ethiopia, under government control, distribution is going much better. In these areas the rains have come, and some citizens are returning home. To be self-sufficient they require seed, tools, and farm animals.
But in rebel-held Tigre the need remains food. As in western Sudan, the problem is transportation: More trucks are required. One past holdup has been concern of some US officials that food trucks might be used part-time to move troops in the rebellion against Ethiopia's government -- with which donor nations including the United States are trying to reach working relationships.
Concern is understandable. Yet the needs of the hungry would seem preeminent. In western Sudan the situation is urgent and unencumbered by such concern.
It is time for nations and private groups that responded so generously in providing food to turn their attention to the transportation requirement. The result is the same: providing much-needed food to the hungry.