ADDIS ABABA, Aug 8 (Nicholas Benequista, OneWorld US ) – Ethiopian officials have said that the country will increase its appeal to the international community for a third time this year, criticizing donors for failing to commit resources to a hunger crisis precipitated by drought and rising food prices.
“It is the humanitarian community’s obligation to see that the humanitarian needs are fulfilled,” said Simon Mechale, who heads the country’s disaster relief agency. “The humanitarian community has not been able to fully support what was jointly established.”
Ethiopia is still seeking funding from donors after appealing to them in June for support to feed 4.6 million hungry people. Ethiopian State Minister for Agriculture Abera Deresa said the government would increase that number as early as next week, though he declined to say by how many.
Aid workers familiar with the new appeal say the government may ask for aid for as many as 8 million and accuse the government here of failing to admit the severity of the crisis in time. Ethiopia has been eager to leave behind a legacy of famine after a drought in the mid-1980s left nearly 1 million to starve, which may explain why the country was reticent to admit the severity of its latest crisis, they say.
Now, even if the expanded appeal matches needs on the ground, aid workers worry that it may already be too late, especially amid global shortages of food.
“The Ethiopian government is facing the crisis and is ready to admit figures it wouldn’t admit in April and March,” one Western donor official said on condition of anonymity.
Donors can take weeks to raise cash and at least four months to provide commodities from their own farmers. Once cash is available, it can take as long as eight weeks to procure food internationally and deliver it to Ethiopia.
In June, Ethiopian Minister of Health Tewodros Adhanom announced an appeal to donors for a total of 380,000 metric tons of emergency food this year to feed 4.6 million people, more than twice the 2.2 million thought to have needed aid in April. Tewodros argued then that the government had been carefully prudent to avoid requesting too much aid.
“We always felt that there were more needy people,” said David Throp, who runs Save the Children UK’s Ethiopian office. “We welcome any acknowledgement of additional needs because it allows the international community to respond, but now it’s a question of logistics and time-lags.”
Relief efforts are already suffering from shortages after the global spike in food and gasoline prices essentially cut the purchasing power of the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) in half. Only half the needy are receiving food aid, and the rations they receive have already been cut by a third to conserve resources.
According to a June report from the WFP, the worldwide prices of staple foods like wheat and maize have nearly doubled since the beginning of the decade, making it increasingly difficult for international aid agencies to buy enough food to support crisis-ridden regions.
At the Rome Food Summit in June, governments and international aid agencies pledged to contribute an additional $6 billion to help poorer countries cope with hunger amid increasing food prices.
Food security experts say the global food crisis has emerged due to a combination of factors, including climate changes that have altered rainfall patterns and decreased harvests, increasing demand for corn ethanol and other grains to fuel cars instead of feeding people, and skyrocketing demand for meat — which requires large amounts of grain in the form of animal feed — in rapidly developing countries like China and India.
Economic speculators, who buy up grain reserves in anticipation of selling them at higher prices, have also helped to decrease supplies and increase global prices, say analysts.
“This troubling situation is unlike any the world has faced before,” says Earth Policy Institute President Lester Brown, who has studied the convergence of ecological, economic, and humanitarian issues for decades.
“The challenge is not simply to deal with a temporary rise in grain prices, as in the past, but rather to quickly alter those trends whose cumulative effects collectively threaten the food security that is a hallmark of civilization.”
Brown says that the world’s most influential countries must act swiftly to “stabilize population, restrict the use of grain to produce automotive fuel, stabilize the climate, stabilize water tables and aquifers, protect cropland, and conserve soils.”
“None of these goals can be achieved quickly,” he notes, “but progress toward all is essential to restoring a semblance of food security.”