USIS Washington File

06 April 2000

18 Million Africans at Risk of Starvation in Horn

(U.S. relief official warns after visiting region) (1050)
By Charles W. Corey
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Eighteen million Africans are now at risk of starvation
from drought in the Horn of Africa and more than half of those
potential famine victims are living in already hard-hit Ethiopia,
warned a top U.S. relief official who just returned from the region.
Briefing reporters at the State Department April 5 following a
two-week assessment trip to the area, Hugh Parmer, the assistant
administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development's
Bureau for Humanitarian Response, said conditions in the Horn are most
severe in southern Ethiopia. Parmer, who visited Ethiopia, Somalia,
Djibouti, Eritrea, and Kenya, characterized the situation in the
southern Ethiopian town of Gode as "quite appalling."
"As we drove from the airport ... the fields on both sides of the road
were littered with the carcasses of dead livestock, animals of all
kinds -- cattle, sheep, goats, even a few camels, which are, of
course, the hardiest of beasts," Parmer said.
Both therapeutic and supplemental feeding programs for children are
now under way there, he told reporters. (In therapeutic feeding, the
child is brought into a facility and kept there as a patient while
feedings are administered. In supplemental feeding, supplemental
rations are given to the parent to administer to their children, who
are then brought back by the parents for regular weighings and medical
Parmer recalled that between 500 and 1,000 mothers and children were
gathered outside the gates of a supplemental feeding facility in Gode,
waiting for their children to be tested to determine whether they
"The most dramatic thing I saw there," he said, "was a woman that I
talked to at a displaced persons camp right outside of Gode. She had a
baby under her arm that was in obviously very poor condition. She was
waiting to qualify the child for the supplemental program. I asked ...
about the child, and she said, 'I had three of them when I arrived
here two months ago. Two of them have died.'"
From Gode, Parmer said, his party flew on to nearby Kelafo, Ethiopia,
where they saw the same kind of conditions. He was told about
situations that "were even worse" in surrounding areas, but he did not
visit those areas because of severe security problems.
Parmer said he ordered an immediate airlift of about 40 tons of a
corn-soybean mix, high-protein biscuits, and a fortified formula for
children who are malnourished. That contribution, he said, was in
addition to the 400,000 metric tons of emergency food aid the United
States is providing to Ethiopia this year.
Parmer said his party next traveled to Baidoa, Somalia, which became
known as the "City of Death" during the 1992 famine. Conditions there
were "significantly better than what we saw" in Ethiopia, he recalled.
In Baidoa, he said, there was a lot of livestock still in relatively
good shape and the stores and streets were busy.
What was most interesting in Somalia, particularly in the Baidoa area,
he said, was the gratitude its leaders expressed "toward the United
States and toward the international community for the intervention in
1992 and '93."
He termed that experience "rewarding" in the sense that "a lot of us
have a view of that intervention as certainly not successful, given
the way it ended.
"What they said to me was, 'The United States and the international
community saved tens of thousands of lives that would have been lost
if you had not intervened at that time.'"
Parmer said that the United States is providing 18,000 metric tons of
food aid to Somalia this year in hopes of averting a famine-like
Parmer and his relief assessment team also inspected the port of
Djibouti's infrastructure. It will be through Djibouti, he said, that
food assistance to Ethiopia will arrive. He pledged $600,000 to help
improve the port's operational capacity and announced that USAID would
contribute as well 2,000 metric tons of food valued at $1 million.
Parmer, who met with representatives of the World Food Program (WFP)
and port officials, said they concluded that Djibouti probably lacks
the capacity to handle the 120,000 to perhaps 150,000 metric tons of
food that will be needed in the peak periods of July, August, and
Nonetheless, the "real trouble," he warned, "involves the logistics
from Djibouti on," where the roads are very bad and there are not
enough trucks to deliver the food.
Parmer said his group also traveled to the Somali port of Berbera,
which the WFP has identified as its secondary backup port. Smaller
ships must service that port, he explained, because it is a shallow
harbor in comparison to Djibouti.
Parmer acknowledged that he did not get to the drought-affected region
of Eritrea, whose most drought-affected area, "strangely and
interestingly," is along the eastern coastal regions. Instead, he went
south and visited some of the camps for people who have been displaced
by the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
"I must say, those people were in awfully good condition for -- some
of them had been displaced from their homes for as much as 20 months.
Although, again, the people in those camps were almost entirely
dependent upon food aid, which at that point was coming almost
exclusively from the Eritrean government," he noted.
While there, Parmer said, he announced the United States would
participate in the WFP appeal for food assistance to Eritrea. He
pledged 40,800 metric tons of food aid valued at $20 million.
Parmer and his party also traveled to Kenya, where they met with U.S.
government and USAID officials and pledged 33,400 metric tons of food
valued at $18 million. Total U.S. food aid to Kenya this year is
expected to reach 62,960 metric tons. Besides helping drought victims,
food aid is also provided to refugees and for development programs.
After departing the Horn region, Parmer held talks in Rome and
Brussels to discuss the drought situation with officials of the WFP
and the European Union before returning to Washington.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

Return to the Washington File

Join the mailing list