Update: The African famine

Wanted -- more money: Not just for emergency grain for Africa, but for better local crops, irrigation -- and saving soil, water, and trees from drought devastation. As Western media are about to celebrate first anniversary (Oct. 23) of the global wakeup to the extent of the African famine, there are developments. The World Bank says it has created special fund of $1 billion to lend for famine relief projects.

The Italian government is spending $900 million, much of it for trucks to get food from ports to people. Live Aid/Band Aid for Africa is spending more than $50 million on trucks, communications. Rock singer Bob Geldorf, head of Band Aid, has been on tour of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa in recent days.

Backstage: Plans for a new United Nations effort to help the poorest of the poor in still-hungry Africa. As rain keeps falling and Western experts fan out across the Horn and the Sahel to estimate the size of harvests due in November and December, American Donald S. Brown talks about $300 million to be committed over four years by a variety of big donors.

Mr. Brown is vice-president of the small, unique UN agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development. IFAD is the only agency that combines money from rich Western members of OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) with money from OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). It also aims only at the rural poor -- to raise their food production and living standards.

An immediate problemn is deciding which nations will pay what amounts for the next three years beginning this year. Says Brown, ``Once that's done, we launch a special African Fund. So far the only public pledge is $11 million from the Netherlands. But . . . we think that once the Fund goes public, we'd get another $100 million quickly.''

Belgium has just allocated $23.3 million, as part of an overall commitment on $80 million -- provided IFAD's financial problems are sorted out.

What will the fund do? Brown ticks off goals that include more research, teaching, and rural credit plans to boost tradtional crops like cassava, millet, and plantain. Also envisioned is boosting water conservation, saving forests, and managing depleted soils more efficiently.

IFAD has a reputation for intelligent projects tailored to the poor. If donors give enough, the new Fund could help a lot.

But the World Bank sketches a bleak future for cash flows to Africa, with gross capital flows staying level at about $13 billion a year 1985-87. Soaring interest repayments (from $2.3 billion a year in 1980-82 to $8 billion in 1985-87) on debts. The result will be that available cash for development will drop from $10.8 billion a year 1980-82 to $5 billion in 1985-87. About $2 billion extra is needed every year from now on. This column, keeping readers abreast of the famine and relief efforts, will appear most Fridays

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