Crisis in Ethiopia

Across Ethiopia, just over 11 million people face starvation.

Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, has made a plea to the international community for urgent assistance. 1.4 million tonnes of food aid is urgently needed if a crisis as severe as the 1984/85 famine is to be avoided.

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, visited Ethiopia in December 2002. “People tell me they have seen a very serious deterioration in a very short period of time here. The perception is that by early 2003 it could be very serious,” she warned. “I hope the donor community this time will respond without delay to avert the crisis taking place,” she said.

It is reported from the arid northeast that many communities had already lost most of their cattle and thousands of people are already fleeing the drought.

The main crop in Ethiopia is harvested in November and December. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), “early forecasts indicate that the harvest is likely to be around 15 per cent less than a normal harvest.” A normal harvest is not sufficient to meet the country’s needs.

The United Nations Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia reports that lowland areas have lost almost their entire harvest and that “crop failure for sorghum and late-planted main season crops will between 60 per cent and 70 per cent in some parts of the midlands and highlands.”

Donors face conflicting demands as drought is also affecting southern Africa. Clare Short, British international development minister, warned that food shortages in that region presented a particular problem because so many people are weakened by HIV/AIDS. The WFP has launched the Africa Hunger Alert campaign, a global response to grassroots efforts aimed at helping the more than 38 million victims of the vast hunger crisis which is gripping the African continent.

Meanwhile, Nestlé, the world’s largest food corporation, faces disbelief, outrage and a possible consumer boycott as a result of what has been termed its “morally repugnant behaviour.” Nestlé is demanding that Ethiopia pay a staggering US$6 million compensation for a livestock company once owned by a Nestlé subsidiary. The livestock firm was nationalized three decades ago. Nestlé is claiming compensation at the 1970s exchange rate whereas the Ethiopian government is offering to pay at the present-day rate.

Postscript, January 2003: International outrage has forced Nestlé to make what has been termed a “humiliating u-turn” in its claim against the Ethiopian government. The company has accepted a much lower US$1.5 million settlement, all of which will be handed immediately to the nation's famine relief effort.

Further information
Updates on the situation in Ethiopia can be found at the Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia web page.