- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

As many as 14 million people in Ethiopia are in dire need of food assistance, making the nation of 67 million the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today, according to U.S.-based relief groups.

For 2-year-old children, Ethiopia is the most dangerous place in the world, said Dennis Walto, member of the Ethiopian field office of Save the Children, a U.S.-based organization that works with children around the world.

Mr. Walto and members of other groups that provide food assistance in Ethiopia, along with Rep. Jim McGovern, briefed reporters Wednesday on the situation in the poor Horn of Africa country.

Children between 2 and 5 years old are the first casualties of famine because they are too old to be breast-fed but too young to get adequate nourishment from the family’s sparse meals, the Save the Children official said.

Due to chronic malnutrition, two-thirds of Ethiopian children suffer some kind of deficiency, and one of 10 babies will die before its first birthday, he said.

For the past 30 years, Ethiopia has faced recurrent famines and droughts. According to one estimate, the last famine affected more than 7.7 million people in 1999. In 1972, 600,000 people died of hunger, while the famines of 1983 and 1984 affected more than 1.5 million people.

Mr. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, said the United States and the international community have to invest in long-term solutions to the problem of famine.

Famine should not be seen only as a food problem, but linked with development activities, Douglas Norell of the Catholic Relief Services said.

Ethiopia needs programs focusing on development rather than on emergency assistance, he said.

According to Lauren Landis, director of the Office of Food for Peace, an arm of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Ethiopia’s chronic food shortage could be alleviated only through a strategy of economic growth.

For instance, the United Nations World Food Program provides nutritious meals to attract poor children, especially girls, to schools. This plan eventually helps the students find a livelihood.

“Providing food to a child at school not only deals with hunger but also with poverty,” said Rick Leach, director of the Friends of the U.N. World Food Program.

Under the plan, the WFP will provide 163,524 tons of food to more than 1.5 million students in Ethiopian schools from 2003 to 2006.

Mr. Walto of Save the Children said improvement in education, in the long run, will also help increase life expectancy and lower fertility rates.

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