As eight million people in Ethiopia face the threat of severe famine, the world's churches are raising funds and consciousness to help feed those in danger of starvation. Action by Churches Together (ACT), a worldwide alliance of churches and aid agencies responding to emergencies, has issued a $32 million appeal for assistance to Ethiopia, the third largest appeal in the history of the Geneva-based organization.
"There is a lot of concern and interest in helping," said Neville Pradhan, an ACT appeals officer. "Member churches around the world are starting campaigns to raise funds to help."
Since a 1984 famine left the country an international poster child for severe famine, Ethiopia has taken significant steps to improve its food situation. But three years of drought have had a disastrous impact on crop production. Water sources have dried up, livestock and wildlife have perished by the thousands and people have been driven to the edge of survival by malnutrition and disease.
The situation has been made worse by Ethiopia's war against Eritrea, which has drained resources and monopolized the attention of government officials.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Sunday Times of London that the Ethiopian government was partly responsible for delays in food distribution. "It is a tough terrain and Ethiopia is a huge country, but the government could have done a better job of distribution," said Annan, whose remarks prompted an indignant response from Addis Ababa.
ACT's three members in Ethiopia have estimated that 900,000 tons of food will be needed this year to stave off starvation. Although more than half that amount has been pledged by the international community, only about seven percent has been received. And transportation problems inside the country have exacerbated the situation.
"Due to the slow delivery of official donors' pledges, much of the burden of responding to people's needs is falling on the shoulders of our local partners and international aid agencies," says Sarah Hughes, head of the East Africa team for Christian Aid, an ACT member in Great Britain.
Besides emergency food aid, which is crucial at the moment, ACT members have also included in the appeal a request for seeds, fertilizers, farm tools, and livestock.
The ACT appeal will be administered by the alliance's three members in Ethiopia: the LWF/DWS, EECMY, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Along with Catholic Relief Services and the Ethiopian Catholic Church, they constitute the Joint Relief Partnership (JRP), a consortium established by Ethiopia's churches and church-related international non-governmental organizations in 1984 at the peak of the most serioous Ethiopian famine. The JRP has maintained its operational capacity in order to provide emergency relief assistance to vulnerable groups which continue to be adversely affected by disasters, mainly droughts, which recur on a periodic basis.
JRP partners hope to provide food assistance to about one-tenth of the eight million Ethiopians expected to go hungry in coming weeks. "The elderly, nursing mothers and the very young in the drought areas are already very vulnerable," according to Francis Stephanos, the East Africa director of ACT member Luthern World Relief. "Help now is much better than help later," he said. Stephanos said consecutive droughts have led farmers, herders and their families to sell off their assets, leaving them few reserves to cope with further drought.
Aid officials say a full-scale famine can still be avoided if the world responds quickly enough.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is responding to the food crisis in Ethiopia through its ecumenical partner Action by Churches Together. One hundred percent of donations to "Ethiopia Famine Relief, Advance #101250" will be used in for this response. The generous giving of United Methodists to the One Great Hour of Sharing supplements the cost of Advance gifts. Give through a local United Methodist church or send financial contributions to: UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Call (1-800-554-8583 to make a credit card donation. Click here to make a secure online gift.
Source: Action by Churches Together, http://www.act-intl.org.