By FRANCIS NJUGUNA, CNS | Published September 25, 2008
The U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services has been working with aid agencies to respond to the Ethiopian food crisis brought on by drought.
Lane Bunkers, CRS country representative in Ethiopia, told Catholic News Service in an e-mail Sept. 16 that CRS signed a $53.4 million agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide nearly 3 million drought-affected Ethiopians with emergency food assistance over the next few months.
He said the largest challenge is gaining access to food for distribution. Food is unavailable to purchase locally in Ethiopia.
“Emergency rations and feeding provided to date by the Ethiopian government and aid agencies have exhausted the majority of food staples available locally in the country. We are now waiting for additional food to arrive from the United States,” said Bunkers.
CRS and USAID also are working to move 165 tons of corn-soy blend from Djibouti, which Bunkers said will be distributed in September to pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly.
“In addition, CRS has already provided $125,000 in private funds to the Ethiopia Catholic Secretariat to help dioceses respond to the local needs, in particular in support of emergency medical and feeding services,” he said.
He said CRS has given another $150,000 in private funding to the Missionaries of Charity to help them feed 10,000 more people at two of their centers for those dying of starvation in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
CRS also is working with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to distribute seeds to farmers, Bunkers said.
IRIN, the U.N. news agency, reported Ethiopia’s southern Somali region “has experienced successive rainfall failure in recent years. In the southern areas, livelihoods have also been affected by conflict between the government and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front.”
IRIN reported Sept. 17 that the conflict “has disrupted trade, transport and social services and hampered humanitarian access.” The Swiss branch of Doctors Without Borders recently withdrew from the region because of administrative hurdles and intimidation, IRIN reported.
Bunkers said millions of farmers are facing partial or complete crop failure because of lack of rain and that minimal harvests will drastically reduce families’ expected food stores for the coming year. He said Ethiopians facing crop failure will need emergency food assistance for many months to come.
The Ethiopian government, aid agencies and donors must continue to coordinate efforts to ensure that emergency needs are met. It is also essential that long-term agricultural development projects be funded to avert crises such as this one in the future, said Bunkers, adding that many regions in Ethiopia regularly experience drought every few years.