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More Must Be Done

January 13, 1985

The stark photographic evidence of starving Ethiopian children challenges the world. More must be done, first to get food into those swollen little stomachs and then to get at the causes of famine. President Reagan proposes to start with an increase in U.S. African relief aid of $235 million. Some members of Congress rightly think that the United States can afford to do much more.

The United States has spent $590 million on aid to Africa in the first three months of this fiscal year, some under routine assistance programs but most in the form of emergency funds. The President has proposed $235 million in supplemental aid. The magnitude of the problem dictates that Congress do more.

Three members of the House subcommittee on Africa who are leading the congressional aid effort have proposed $787 million in supplemental aid. Some of that money would be spent on transportation so that the food would reach the people for whom it would be intended. Reps. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) and Mickey Leland (D-Tex.) also advocate sending $225 million in aid to promote longer-term recovery--that is, medicine as well as seeds and fertilizer. Last year a similar House proposal spurred appropriations not as high as the congressmen asked but higher than the Administration intended.

In his statement on U.S. aid to famine victims, the President recognized the need to tackle the monumental job of erasing the very causes of famines. Much of Africa's soil is too thin to support life, and even that gets blown away by winds. These are nature's contributions to famine, but man plays a role, too. Emphasis on urbanization and government unwillingness to encourage food production with living wages has hurt many African countries. The Administration is moving in the right direction, but it is up to Congress to prod it to move further, faster.

Ethiopia is the symbol of starvation, but its people are not the only Africans who are at risk. As officials of the CARE international relief organization pointed out last week, as many as 18 million people in Africa are in danger of starvation within six months if drought continues across Africa. CARE officials especially pointed to Sudan, Mauritania, Chad, Somalia, Mozambique, Kenya, Mali and Niger as countries with substantial food problems.

Because it takes two months for aid to reach the hinterlands of Chad from the Cameroonian port of Douala, for example, steps must be taken now if the world is not to see a deluge of photographs of malnourished and dying people in other parts of Africa later this year.

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