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U.S. to Send 165,000 Tons of Grain to Ethiopia to Help Avert Repeat of '84 Famine

December 13, 1989|DON SHANNON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Agency for International Development said Tuesday that the United States has allocated more than 165,000 tons of grain to Ethiopia to help deal with a famine that it fears could be as severe as one in 1984 that caused an estimated 1 million deaths.

Mark L. Edelman, acting administrator of the agency, said other industrialized nations are providing 110,000 tons of grain toward an overall target of 750,000 tons. Experts believe that this amount will be needed in Ethiopia until it harvests next year's crops.

Edelman blamed the famine, Ethiopia's third in five years, on a lack of rainfall and the refusal of the Marxist government to adopt a free market and provide incentives for farmers.

There was virtually no rain last summer, AID officials said, and 85% of this year's crops were lost.

Edelman said the civil war in Ethiopia is not a cause of the famine, although "it complicates relief operations."

He said he hopes a truce can be arranged between the government of President Mengistu Haile Mariam and the rebel forces so that food can be delivered to drought-stricken, rebel-held territories in the north of the country.

"We do not believe it will be possible to avert starvation in northern Ethiopia, or to prevent large movements of people out of drought-stricken areas unless such a plan can be implemented," he said.

Asked about a report from Kenya that Mengistu had pledged his cooperation in allowing the food to flow into the northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigre, Edelman said, "I hope it's true."

Officials said the hardest-hit area is Eritrea, where two-thirds of the province's 3.1 million inhabitants are judged to be at risk of starving unless they get outside help. Half of Tigre's 2.8 million people and a third of the 4.3 million people living in Wollo, a province in the southwest, are believed to be similarly threatened.

Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union has been able to persuade Mengistu to change his agricultural policies, which have made Ethiopia's economy the only orthodox Marxist economy in Africa, Edelman said.

"And it won't be different if the rebels win," he said. "They're all officially Marxist, too."

Edelman expressed confidence that the confusion that characterized the international relief operation in 1984 would not be repeated. Five years ago, Mengistu refused to allow foreigners to distribute food, and there were widespread rumors that much of the relief went to the army rather than to the needy.

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