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Famine in Sudan

July 19, 1998

The Times' welcome reporting from Sudan (July 13) mirrors earlier coverage in 1984 when a killer drought and famine complicated by civil and tribal conflicts racked eight East African countries. At that time, more than $400 million was raised from private sources as a horrified world responded. By the early '90s "compassion fatigue" had set in and there was a feeble response to similar reporting from Somalia and later from Rwanda.

As a relief agency that responded to those crises and more, we and our colleagues have a very simple measure of the public pulse: How many phone calls or letters and how much money comes in to relief agencies working to stem the tide in Sudan and elsewhere? So far, Operation USA has had only one significant response from a donor to this crisis--one only.

All the agencies are at immediate risk of being unable to adequately respond, however, because this time public apathy is being combined with huge cuts by Congress in foreign aid. Such cuts fall disproportionately on the world's poorest countries and on the very programs that have been most successful: training poor farmers and making "microenterprise" loans of less than $100 to launch small businesses. These programs demonstrably lessen the impact of drought and famine.

Our refusal to pay attention now means yet another emergency program which, if properly done, will cost more than the ounce of prevention we could have provided. We need to wake up!

RICHARD M. WALDEN, Pres.

Operation USA

Los Angeles

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