A member of Switzerland's Development Agency said it was vital for the people threatened by drought in Ethiopia that the international community, donors and the local authorities co-ordinate their efforts to avoid a repeat of the famine 1984/5.
A member of Switzerland's Development Agency says it is vital for the people threatened by drought in Ethiopia that the international community, donors and the local authorities co-ordinate their efforts to avoid a repeat of the famine in 1984/5.
Jürg Zumstein, programme coordinator for the Horn of Africa with the Development Agency said there were pockets of food shortage in the north of Ethiopia and that the local population are leaving their settlements in search of food. He said the situation could reach a crisis point if the rain does not set in the next few weeks.
"It's not yet a widespread as in 1985", Zumstein told swissinfo, on return from a fact-finding mission to Ethiopia. But he said the situation is critical because the strategic reserves of grain have been used up and the stocks need to be replenished to avoid a disaster.
Zumstein said so far the current military conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia appears to have had no, or only little impact on the food situation. But he said many people, especially women, were abandoning their homes in desperate need of supplies. Some of them have sold the grass on the roof-tops as a last resort to buy food.
Zumstein said there are huge structural deficits in Ethiopia, the market mechanisms do not work because there are hardly any roads to distribute food across the country. "Ethiopia is one of the lowest developed countries in terms of land transport", Zumstein pointed out, "Even if there is a surplus of food, it can often not be brought to the markets."
In normal times, Switzerland's development aid focuses on the construction of an overland road network and the setting up of "cash-for-work" projects to help the local population. With the food crisis looming, the Swiss Development Agency is concentrating on helping to strengthen international relief efforts.
Zumstein said there was a platform in place in Addis Ababa for international organisations and donors under the auspices of the United Nations to work with local authorities in Ethiopia and other countries in the Horn of Africa.
Switzerland has pledged SFr4.5 million for humanitarian aid for the needy in Ethiopia for the current year. More than half of the money will go towards the United Nations World Food Programme. The Disaster Relief Unit also has experts in the region to help increase the capacity of the port of Djibouti and improve the road network in Ethiopia.
by Urs Geiser