Two million people in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia are facing serious food shortages this year following the collapse of the main rains a UK-based agency reported Monday. News of the food crisis comes as Prime Minister Tony Blair heads to the region.
"Nearly two million people in Tigray face severe hunger. That is almost half the population of the region," said Beverley Jones, the representative in Ethiopia for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD).
Jones, who recently returned from Tigray said, "Some Ethiopians are comparing the situation with the one they experienced in 1984. If they are not given assistance soon, they will be forced to sell everything they have just to survive. Soon they will have nothing left to sell."
"It’s not too late to avert a bigger crisis," Jones added. "The provision of money and food now would make all the difference."
Jones stated that recognition must be given to the government of Ethiopia for the progress that has been made since the famine of 1984.
"The government has clear plans to move Ethiopia away from dependency on food aid," Jones said. "It has developed a ‘safety net’ program for those who need long-term food. Unfortunately, this is not due to start until January 2005."
The food shortages are according to August figures published by the government and non-government organizations, including the CAFOD partner Relief Society of Tigray.
The food crisis in Tigray and in the east takes place against the background of the forthcoming UK sponsored Africa Commission meeting in Addis Ababa. Prime Minister Tony Blair is in Ethiopia this week for the second meeting of the Commission.
Another partner of CAFOD, the Adigrat Catholic Secretariat has received a growing number of undernourished children for supplementary feeding. It has become alarmed by the desperation of people who are coming to the church for assistance.
"It’s clear from the situation in Ethiopia that far more could be achieved if Tony Blair’s Africa Commission could help secure a fairer deal for trade, an increase in debt cancellation, and more aid," said Jones. "This is vital for countries like Ethiopia, whose economies are still so vulnerable to drought and fluctuations in world prices for products such as coffee."
CAFOD reports that 2005 will be a crucial year for the fight against poverty in Africa and that the UK government can push for real change as it holds the presidency of the G8 and the EU next year. Make Poverty History, a mass mobilization of campaigners including CAFOD supporters, will be putting pressure on the government to end the scandal of Third World poverty.