At year's end, civil wars keep four nations in famine's grip. The African famine.

For four African nations, 1986 has not been a year to recover from the famine of 1984-85. Instead it has been a year of continuing hunger, more refugees, further destruction - a year of war. While many nations began to replenish food supplies in 1986, Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, and Sudan remained in the grip of civil wars. These conflicts impede food distribution, disrupt agriculture, place a heavy strain on already cash-strapped economies, and leave millions of people refugees, either in their own country or in a neighboring nation.

Mozambique: Relief officials fear that 1987 could see a repetition of the 1984 crisis, when 100,000 people died because of the drought. Officials say 3.8 million people may face starvation unless the civil war eases.

Fighting makes food transport to areas where hunger is rampant virtually impossible. This year alone the Mozambican government says the guerrillas killed 23 aid workers, kidnapped dozens of others, and burned 18 trucks carrying relief food. In October, some 30,000 villagers sought refuge in neighboring Malawi.

Following President Samora Machel's death in October, the South African-backed rebels increased their attacks. Mozambican officials see the war as top priority. Amos Mahanjane, director of the official Prevention of Natural Disaster and Relief department, said recently, ``We need peace to deal with hunger, but we also need to defend our independence.''

The price for independence is high. Industrial production fell 20 percent in 1985, leaving a 50 percent drop since 1981. The drop is largely a result of the ravages of war, which every year cost the socialist government $269 million, some 42 percent of its total expenditure.

Angola: The situation is similar to that in Mozambique. The grain-rich provinces of Huambo and Bie have become the front line in the 11-year-old war between the government troops and rebels. Some 600,000 people are at risk of starvation, most of them in Huambo and Bie.

Every year, Angola's socialist government spends $350 million - half the country's revenues from oil - to support the estimated 30,000 Cubans fighting alongside Angolan troops. Conservative estimates show the war and South African incursions into Angola have cost Luanda $12 billion since independence in 1975. And 50 percent of the nation's $2.7 billion foreign debt results from military expenditures.

Ethiopia: Defense spending is high and hunger rampant in this country, where Cuban-backed government troops are fighting three regional guerrilla movements. Twenty-two percent of the nation's $2 billion annual expenditure is spent on maintaining Africa's largest standing Army of an estimated 300,000 men.

Two years after the famine that killed up to 1 million people in Ethiopia, relief agencies believe several million Ethiopians are still severely malnourished. Many of them are villagers living in Eritrea, where rebels have been fighting government troops for the past 25 years.

According to reports from relief organizations and Western governments, during the 1984-85 famine, people in Eritrea and in other regions where insurgencies operate were often cut off from relief supplies. More recently, efforts to control swarms of crop-devouring locusts were limited or nonexistent in areas where rebels operate. These areas remain battlefields, largely isolated from long-term agricultural rehabilitation efforts.

Sudan: Africa's largest country has a grain surplus in excess of 500,000 tons, all of it in the north, while the specter of hunger still hangs over the nation's southern regions. The food situation in the south has improved over the past few months, following good rains earlier this year, but aid workers say severe shortages may occur in early 1987. Fighting between the government and southern rebels is likely to intensify when the dry season begins in January and transport becomes easier.

Food deliveries to the south are irregular and often insufficient because of the three-year war between troops loyal to the Islamic government and Christian-led rebels based in southern Sudan, a war in which both sides have reportedly used hunger as a weapon. The government does not allow relief agencies to take food into rebel-held areas, which include much of the southern countryside. And the rebels have threatened to shoot down any aircraft flying over southern Sudan without their permission, as they did in August.

``Hunger in the south is not caused by drought, but mainly by war,'' says Jacob Akol of the California-based World Vision relief organization. ``There is plenty of food in the country....''

Sudanese officials announced recently that the country would soon begin exporting grain to its neighbors.

With this article, the Monitor ends its regular update on the African famine. Still, the famine continues, and the Monitor will continue to follow developments.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.