Famine: major progress, but crisis remains

The year closes with symbols of hope and lessons learned -- even as 1986 opens with other symbols of need. Millions of lives have been saved. But now those saved need something to live for. THE Western world, aid experts warn, is in danger of ``compassion fatigue.'' News media coverage is smaller. Rain has fallen in many areas. Yet 19 million Africans still need famine relief.

The hope:

Children's faces filled out and eyes alert again after a year of global aid . . . ``at least 3 million'' lives saved, the UN says . . . far fewer people dying in Korem camp in Ethiopia (10 deaths a day, down from 100 a day a year ago).

Lines of 40-ton trailer trucks hauling emergency grain on new routes under flapping tarpaulins . . . the blare of rock music pulling in more than $50 million so far for trucks, a bridge across the Chari River in Chad, water treatment in Mali, and more from young people (and their parents) around the Western world.

A total of $2.9 billion raised worldwide, the UN reports . . . the best rain for 5 to 10 years making barren land green again . . . harvests up between 50 percent and 60 percent.

Six countries out of emergency altogether (Burundi, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe) . . . eight more on the way (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Senegal, Lesotho, Rwanda).

New recognition for the value of private Western relief agency workers toiling in distant deserts. . .

The United States alone sent 3 million tons of grain to Africa, spent $1.2 billion and met one-third of black Africa's emergency needs in 1985. . . . Italy made a huge aid commitment.

Symbols of crisis and need:

The 19 million Africans who still need emergency help represent 70 percent of the number in 1985 . . . many areas still bleak and browned by drought not yet ended.

A UN appeal for more than $1 billion in 1986 for food and nonfood aid, especially to buy and move grain from surplus areas to deficit ones within Africa.

The rattle of machine-gun fire as civil war flares and blocks food aid in Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Mozambique . . . Ethiopian resettlement and ``villagization'' programs offending aid donors . . . mounting red ink as African debt worsens.

Trucks, trucks, and more trucks, together with tires, diesel fuel, tools (and drivers) needed urgently in eastern central and western black Africa. . .

Also needed: long-term improvements to soil, water, seeds, livestock.

Meanwhile, as 1986 opens, the global aid community looks back to see what lessons were learned -- and forward to a year many think will be just as tough and hard as 1985.

Lesson 1:

Move food aid early.

``For instance, begin shifting it now, especially in Ethiopia, Sudan, Mozambique, Angola, and Botswana,'' say officials of the international relief agency Oxfam, Britain.

``This time last year we urged donors to get grain out to western Sudan,'' says a UN Food and Agriculture Organization official in Rome. ``But it was too late. The only railroad broke down. Then the rains came and wiped out all roads.''

But what do you do if an African government doesn't admit an emergency until too late? Make sure you tell him early -- and keep telling him.

Ex-President Jaafar Nimeiry of the Sudan, in political trouble, refused to ask for any help until January 1985. That was much too late, private aid agencies agree.

The Food and Agriculture Organization warns that new famine could break out in western Sudan (Darfur and Kordofan) by April unless more grain is shifted now.

Lesson 2:

The need for coordination.

The new UN Office for Emergency Operations in Africa (OEOA) emerged as a valuable, widely praised clearing house for aid and information.

It did particularly well in Ethiopia, where veteran UN official Kurt Janssen encouraged private Western agencies, supervised global relief aid, and tackled leader Mengistu Haile Mariam on his government's excesses (such as the expulsion of 35,000 hungry people from the Ibnat camp: Col. Mengistu allowed them to return.)

Some private agency officials in London say the OEOA office in Khartoum, Sudan, was less effective because it was not set up until months later, and lacked the prestige and expertise that Mr. Janssen gave the office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Under Bradford Morse and Maurice Strong, the OEOA focused attention on Africa's needs. ``The 1984-85 international effort was the greatest peace-time relief operation in history,'' says Mr. Morse, the highest-ranking American in the UN system.

Singer-turned-fund-raiser Bob Geldof accuses the UN of failing to speak out about the causes of famine for the past 40 years. Comments one private agency official in London: ``In 1985, the UN did well, especially as it was sensitive to private agency needs.''

Barring serious new famine, the OEOA will be dismantled in mid-1986. Its periodic reports and analyses, and some other functions, will be taken over by other UN agencies. Meanwhile, the UN World Food Program emerged in 1985 as the major coordinator of grain shipments and distribution, ending the year with a new computerized system to prevent bottlenecks.

Lesson 3:

The need to keep public attention aroused.

Mr. Geldof's organization of the Band Aid-Live Aid program is credited with extending media coverage well beyond the point where many aid professionals thought it would fall away.

Geldof's recent tour of Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Sudan, and Ethiopia generated headlines. So do the awards showering down on him, and his meetings with national leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Thomas Sankara in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Aid experts praise Band Aid-Live Aid for concentrating on communications and transport: a $1 million bridge in Chad, 70 trucks carrying private agency food in Sudan, 46 trucks with another 54 promised in Ethiopia. Band Aid has also sent four-wheeled drive vehicles to Ethiopia, and is spending $1 million on long-term projects in Mali.

Lesson 4:

Recogniton that private relief agencies (Oxfam, Save The Children, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, CARE, Interact, and many more) have a high-profile, irreplaceable role to play in meeting specific needs.

``It would be nice to think that one big UN superagency could do it all, but it can't,'' said Britain's Princess Anne, President of Save the Children (UK), to US journalists in London.

Was 1985 the year of the private agency in Africa? Oxfam's Paddy Coulter, replies, ``No . . . well, it's a paradox.

``Small is beautiful, yes, but the scale of African problems evidently dwarfs the resources of private agencies. We can't do it alone. It has to be a partnership with governments in Africa and our governments here in the West.''

Appealing for people to keep remembering Africa, Geldof comments: ``Attitudes are seriously wrong when a bunch of pop musicians have to raise these issues . . . the issues should be raised by the politicians.''

Lesson 5:

The devastating effects of civil war in Ethiopia (military Marxist Mengistu vs. Tigr'e and Eritrea) Sudan (Khartoum vs. rebel leader John Garang) Mozambique (socialist Samora Machel vs. the Mozambican National Resistance) and Angola (the Soviet-backed government vs. the UNITA rebel group).

In Ethiopia, Mengistu has moved 600,000 Tigr'eans and Eritreans south in the name of resettlement to more fertile areas. The Reagan administration calls it trying to weaken the guerrillas. CHART: So far, so good... The shape of the famine 1985 vs. 1986 People affected Countries worst hit Cereal crop, 20 worst countries External aid needed Total value of food aid pledges including overland transport, handling Nonfood needs (clothes, tents, blankets, etc) Logistics Health needs Water, sanitation Relief and survival items Fertilizers, seeds, etc. Figures for 1986 are projections. Source: United Nations Office of Emergency Operations for Africa (OEOA), New York.

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