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Ethiopian relief

The world is responding swiftly to Ethiopia's famine, now that its extensiveness is being realized. Individuals are providing food and funds in substantial amounts, though much more is required.

Of greater immediacy, some food shipments now have made it from Ethiopian ports to inland areas where hunger is most severe. Transportation from port to countryside long has been the most difficult of the many problems in relieving Ethiopian hunger: Few trucks are available, roads are poor to nonexistent, and clashes between government and guerrilla forces make the trip hazardous. Relieving the transportation bottleneck is a key to alleviating famine in the short term.

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But the problem in Ethiopia, as in several other nations, exists in two parts. Short term, in which the requirements are large quantities of food for at least the next year or two and swifter transportation of supplies from dock to countryside. And long term, in which the need is for a major change in direction by the Ethiopian government, plus considerable outside economic development assistance to enable the nation to move toward agricultural self-sufficiency.

It is difficult for the United States or other Western nations to feel much sympathy for the Ethiopian government, a dictatorial Marxist regime closely allied with the Soviet Union. The recently released Amnesty International Report for 1984 refers to numerous allegations of deprivation of human rights and reported widespread use of torture. The Ethiopian government is following a policy of collectivizing farmland that gives evidence of lowering still further, rather than raising, the nation's agricultural production.

Much of the current famine in Ethiopia and other areas of Africa stems in large part from a drought of several years. But steps exist which individual governments, including Ethiopia, should take, such as encouraging greater domestic food production through agricultural and economic aid to individual farmers, thereby stopping the farm-to-city migration. Ethiopia also ought to re-allocate more of its admittedly sketchy resources to domestic needs and focus less on its battle with guerrillas in the rebellious northeast provinces. If Ethiopia's government were to take positive steps to deal with these issues, the developed world should aid by providing economic assistance to improve Ethiopia's long-term agricultural outlook.

Providing food grown by other nations to the hungry of Ethiopia is not the long-term solution. But it is the short-term requirement, with estimates that perhaps 10 million Ethiopians are close to starvation. Within the week United Nations officials have appealed for additional donations: By one estimate Ethiopia may need 1.8 million metric tons of food by the end of 1985.

The idea of reducing transportation time by prepositioning stocks of food near hungry areas ought to receive renewed attention in the United States next year. It is an approach that would help speed food to the hungry in times of urgency, such as now.

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