Famine in Ethiopia- Statement by Liz O'Donnell T.D., to Seanad Eireann on 5 April 2000
I would beg the indulgence of the Seanad to allow me to refer to the developing crisis in Ethiopian and other countries in the Horn of Africa. Drought has led to serious food shortages which could affect up over 12 million people.
Ethiopia is expected to be the worst affected and the crisis will impact most on the chronically food insecure central and northern highlands and the pastoral lowlands. The lack of rain is also leading to problems with feeding cattle and, obviously, with access to water. It is estimated that 6-8 million Ethiopians are currently in need of food aid if they are to survive. We all have vivid memories of the terrible famines of the 1980s. It was in response to this that the Government decided to establish an Embassy in Addis and to work with the Ethiopian people on long-term development programmes which help prevent or at least mitigate the effects of drought and chronic food deficiencies.
Proof of the success of this approach is that the effects of the extreme food insecurity are not as severe in the areas where Ireland Aid is working with the national and local authorities on agricultural development and land and water management.
Obviously we also need to provide, in coordination with the rest of the donor community, the right type of humanitarian assistance which will avert this disaster. The international community has already reacted favourably with the EU, the US and other donors pledging about 800,000 tonnes of the estimated 1 million tonnes required for Ethiopia up to the end of the year. The main problem now is not the availability of food aid but how this food is to be stored and distributed.
I am very much of the view that we should not be waiting for pictures on TV to provoke a reaction to the plight of our fellow human beings. I have been allocating humanitarian assistance resources consistently over the past year to a number of these "forgotten situations". For example, a total of £810,000 in humanitarian assistance was allocated to countries in the Horn of Africa in 1999.
I have been following the precarious food situation in Ethiopia for a number of months. A team from Ireland Aid recently travelled widely in Ethiopia and saw for themselves the effects of the drought. I have allocated £359,000 in emergency funding since last December. Most of these funds have gone to Concern which has a long history of working in Ethiopia and is implementing supplementary feeding programmes. The remainder has been allocated to the World Food Programme which has a response plan in place. Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs have raised the developing humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa on a number of occasions at EU and UN level over the past number of months. I am keeping developments under very close review and intend to make further allocations of assistance as the overall international response becomes clearer. The Embassy in Addis is at present in consultation with the local and national authorities to ascertain how best to offer additional assistance.
I have heard some concerns raised about the possible diversion of humanitarian funds for military use. This is an issue which comes up in many emergency situations. Ireland Aid has ample experience of working with national and local authorities on the long term programmes. In countries where there is conflict none of these funds are paid to the central treasury but are used at local and regional level. All inputs and outputs are monitored carefully. In emergency situations, funds are usually given through international agencies and NGOs. Ethiopia has a well-established Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission. Donors, including Ireland, work with this Commission to mitigate and prevent disasters.
The emergency funding has been given to Concern and the World Food Programme who have given us assurances that they will reach the most vulnerable people. We have a moral imperative to respond to the suffering of our fellow human beings and to work with the democratically elected Government of Ethiopia and other members of the international community to prevent the present situation from deteriorating into a major emergency.