- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

The nation's major international relief groups will begin a campaign today to alert Americans of what is being called the worst scourge of starvation in Africa since an Ethiopian famine pulled public heartstrings in the mid-1980s.
Relief groups estimate that 38 million Africans in 25 nations, particularly in the southern cone and Ethiopia, are "threatened" by starvation because of a weakened work force from the spread of AIDS, poor harvests and in one case a ban on genetically modified American grain.
The relief groups were hoping the appeal for private donations would make up for some of the $600 million shortfall in U.S. government funding that was promised but did not get through the budget process this year.
"We know from experience that unless a crisis like this grabs public attention, there is no political focus and no public involvement," said Kenneth Hackett, head of Catholic Relief Services and coordinator of the Coalition for Food Aid.
The coalition, made up of 15 mostly faith-based relief services, meets in Baltimore today with James T. Morris, head of the U.N. World Food Program, and Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
They hope to draw attention to the African crisis and coordinate increased relief efforts.
Later today, Mr. Morris will sound a "global alert" on the problem of food shortages to the U.N. Security Council, emphasizing the permanent damage that could follow protracted starvation in Africa, his office said.
In a dispatch from Malawi yesterday, the U.N. program's Gerard Van Dijk reported that food was being shipped to desperate groups 1,000 tons at a time using 25 railroad cars. "The number of hungry people will jump by one million, from 2.3 million to 3.3 million in December," he said.
In addition to Malawi, the hardest-hit nations include Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia, which bars U.S. corn that is genetically modified. People infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, need more protein than others to work their fields, relief workers say, so the food shortage is depleting harvests.
Mr. Hackett said the war on terrorism and homeland security have overshadowed the African crisis. "At this point, nobody is listening," he said. "We thought the United States was going to provide enough assistance."
The United States has provided $275 million from its scaled-back budget.
The relief groups also are calling on Europe and Australia to chip in more to help slow a food crisis until the next harvest. Mr. Hackett said the coalition was reluctant to present another image of blighted Africa because it would cast a negative pall on the continent.
"Nobody wants to say, 'Famine again in Africa,' but this is the only way to get attention and get the food," Mr. Hackett said. He said that Americans gave $50 million in donations over four months after the Ethiopian famine was showcased on NBC in October 1984.
Mr. Natsios has said that unlike in 1984, when the Ethiopian regime had set up barriers to famine relief, many of the African nations this time are helping with the food emergency projects.
Members of the coalition include the Adventist Development & Relief Agency, Africare, the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere Inc. (CARE), the American Red Cross, the International Orthodox Christian Charities, International Relief and Development, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and World Vision.


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