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Hungry Ethiopia

The Ethiopians are starving again. A prolonged drought, together with severe government mismanagement, cultural factors, and the legacy of war, has 11 million people needing food aid. As many as 20 million could soon be at risk if this summer's harvest fails.

The World Food Program (WFP), the US Agency for International Development, and private relief agencies are on the scene helping. But they need reinforcement quickly to save more lives. Only about half the food aid needed for 2003 has been pledged. While many people are getting food aid, they're not getting enough.

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The Ethiopian crisis is the worst in Africa in terms of numbers of people. But it's not the only one: The WFP says up to 30 million people in other countries are currently in danger.

If it makes a concerted effort, the international community can head off a worse situation. It did so last year in southern Africa, where up to 14 million people were reported at risk. But besides feeding the hungry, the world must take steps to end the cycle of famine in so many African nations. Climatic changes certainly play a role - but famines are often man-made or worsened by government behavior, and that's true in Ethiopia. International development agencies can help the Ethiopian government:

• Set up a procurement and storage system. Ethiopia enjoyed a bumper harvest in 2001. But the country's peasant farmers had nowhere to store the extra grain.

• Set up a program to catch and conserve rainwater for irrigation.

• Reduce an unsustainably high birth rate.

• Position vehicles to assist local officials with distribution, so that food doesn't rot in warehouses while people go without.

With proper structural and market reforms - land reform among them - Ethiopia could feed itself. The same is true in many African countries. USAID and private aid agencies are promoting long-term change. In the meantime, governments and private donors must step swiftly into the breach to help the hungry survive.


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