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US/Africa: AIDS Initiative, Famine Update
Africa Policy E-Journal
January 29, 2003 (030129)
US/Africa: AIDS Initiative, Famine Update
(Reposted from sources cited below)
This posting includes two distinct but related items: an Africa
Action press release responding to President Bush's announcement of
new funding for AIDS beginning next year, and a report from Rep.
Frank Wolf (Republican, Virginia) reporting on his recent trip to
the Horn of Africa and the escalating famine in that region.
Another posting sent out today contains reports and analysis on the
continuing food crisis in Southern Africa.
One of the key themes common to these reports is that AIDS and
poverty are sharply accentuating the impact of weather conditions
by reducing the capacity of families and societies to respond.
Another is that existing international responses, including that
from the United States, fall far short when measured either against
immediate steps needed to save lives or against long-term
strategies to address structural problems.
Africa Action Press Release
January 29, 2003
Ann-Louise Colgan 202-546 7961
Africa Action Demands Dollars to Match Announcement on AIDS in
Urges Immediate Increase in Funding to Save Lives This Year; Calls
for U.S. action on patents and debt cancellation to support access
to anti-AIDS drugs for Africans
Wednesday, January 29, 2003 (Washington, DC) - At a press
conference this morning with Members of the Congressional Black
Caucus, Africa Action Executive Director Salih Booker said, "The
U.S. President's new Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief comes in
response to rising pressure from AIDS activists and the
Congressional Black Caucus, who have fought for a greater U.S.
response to this most deadly global threat."
While Africa Action welcomes the announcement of new money to
fight HIV/AIDS, Salih Booker noted this morning that this money
must be made available immediately if it is to save lives and have
a real impact on the course of the pandemic in Africa and globally.
Booker emphasized: "Last night's announcement would be the height
of cynicism if the President does not now request at least $3.5
billion of his new total for funding this year. This is the U.S.'
share of what is urgently needed to fight HIV/AIDS now!"
According to the White House, the President's request for
additional funds to fight HIV/AIDS will not affect the 2003 budget,
and will only begin in 2004, with an increase of just $700 million.
Booker noted, "The real measure of the President's sincerity will
be in the budget numbers for 2003 and 2004. Large numbers for
2007 are meaningless to people who will die this year without
access to essential medicines."
Africa Action criticized the White House failure to increase
funding for the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS. Booker noted, "The
Global Fund is the most important vehicle in the effort to fight
the pandemic and the U.S. should contribute a far greater share.
The new commitment of only $1 billion to the Fund, over a period
of 5 years, would actually undermine Africa's greatest hope."
Africa Action welcomes the President's shift to emphasize the
importance of anti-retroviral treatment in fighting HIV/AIDS in
Africa. However, Booker said, "U.S. support for treatment must be
matched with a commitment to ensuring African governments have
access to affordable medicines including generic drugs, compulsory
licensing and parallel imports." Booker added, "these life-saving
drugs will remain inaccessible to Africans who need them so long
as the U.S. continues to push the interests of the pharmaceutical
companies in international trade negotiations, as happened again
recently in Geneva."
Booker concluded, "Africa's illegitimate external debts are
draining $15 billion a year from the War on AIDS. The spirit and
logic of the President's own initiative demand the immediate
cancellation of these debts."
Africa is the epicenter of the global AIDS pandemic. Home to just
over 10% of the global population, Africa has more than 75% of the
world's HIV/AIDS cases. President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS
relief offers an additional $10 billion over 5 years to support
prevention and treatment efforts in the countries most heavily
affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.
[end press release]
Trip Report: Ethiopia and Eritrea
December 29, 2002 - January 4, 2003
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, 10th District, Virginia
Available online at: http://www.house.gov/wolf
January 8, 2003
Babies wailing and screeching, desperately trying to get
nourishment from their mothers' breasts.
Two- and three-year-olds so severely malnourished that they cannot
stand, much less crawl or walk, their pencil-thin legs so frail
that they could be snapped like a twig with little or no effort.
Young boys and girls with bloated bellies. A teenager whose legs
are no thicker than my wrist.
Drinking water almost non- existent - a four- hour walk each way
just to fnd some. Fields scorched. Crops failed.
River beds dry as a bone. Hand-dug collecting ponds for rain so
sun-baked that the earth has cracked.
These are some of the horrifc sites I witnessed last week in
Ethiopia, which once again is facing a famine of catastrophic
I spent a week in Ethiopia in 1984 - when nearly one million people
died of starvation - including two nights in a feeding camp. The
squalid conditions of the camps and the suffering faces of the
children, mothers and elderly was haunting and unforgettable. What
I saw - and experienced - changed me forever. I never thought I
would see something like that again. I have. Last week.
By Easter, thousands of Ethiopians could be dead from starvation.
Children living in villages just 90 miles from the capital city,
Addis Ababa, which is easily accessible by truck, are already near
death. Conditions in villages in more remote areas of the country
are signifcantly worse.
While the government of Ethiopia is out in front of trying to draw
attention to the crisis - unlike in 1984 when the Mengistu
government tried to keep the famine secret until a BBC camera crew
broke the story - what makes this year's crisis more horrifc is
that the population of Ethiopia has increased from 45 million in
1984 to 69 million today. In addition, HIV/ AIDS is spreading
throughout the country and Ethiopia's 2 and one-half-year border
war with neighboring Eritrea has drained precious resources and led
to thousands of displaced people and families, particularly in
remote areas of the country.
With each crisis - drought, war, disease - more families become
destitute and completely dependent on others for their welfare and
survival. The repeated droughts have made
more people vulnerable to hunger and hunger- related diseases,
sharply increasing the danger of outright starvation among groups
that may have been able to survive previous crop failures and
This also is a tough neighborhood, with Sudan bordering to the west
and Somalia to the east. These countries are struggling to overcome
internal turmoil of their own and refugees from each have crossed
into Ethiopia and are living in refugee camps.
But perhaps the greatest diffculty is getting the world to respond.
The focus in capital cities around the globe is the war on terror,
Iraq and North Korea.
How Could This Happen?
I do not believe this situation should ever have been allowed to
develop. Does anyone really believe that the world would turn a
blind eye if this crisis were unfolding in France or Australia?
If the photographs in this report were of Norwegian children
wouldn't the world be rushing to help? Is not the value of an
Ethiopian child or Eritrean mother the same in the eyes of God?
This disaster has been building since last fall, yet there has been
little mention of it in the Western media, let alone any in depth
reports. Without graphic photographs and videotape, foreign
governments will not feel the pressure to act.
The situation in Ethiopia is dire and many believe if immediate
action is not taken to address the looming crisis, the number of
people who could die from starvation could surpass those who
perished during the 1984 - 1985 drought. In 1984, 8 million were in
need of food aid. Today, more than 11 million people - just
slightly less than the combined population of Maryland and Virginia
- are presently at risk and that number is growing every day.
Last year's crops produced little or nothing, even in parts of the
country that normally provide surpluses of food. The demand for
international food aid is tremendous. I was told there is enough
food in the country to meet January's needs and part of February's,
although at reduced levels. Incredibly, there is nothing in the
pipeline to deal with March, April, May, or the rest of the year.
Even if ships loaded with grain were to leave today, many would not
make it in time to avert disaster.
Villagers are living on about 900 calories a day. The average
American lives on 2,200 to 2,400 calories a day.
An elderly woman at a feeding station in the northern part of the
country showed me her monthly allotment of wheat: it would have ft
into a bowling ball bag.
A man working under the hot African sun with fellow villagers to
dig a massive rain collecting pond - each carrying 50-pound bags of
dirt up from the bottom of the pit - told me he had not had a drink
of water all day and didn't know if he would eat that night. It
would depend on whether his children had food.
Water - for drinking and bathing - is almost non- existent, and
what is available, is putrid. There is no medicine - and even if
there was something as simple as an aspirin there is no water with
which to wash it down. Disease is rampant. During my trip I visited
villages in both the north and south of the country. I went to a
food distribution center and a health clinic. I talked with farmers
who had already begun to sell off their livestock and mothers who
did not know where or when their children would get their next
meal. I met with U. S. State Department offcials and NGOs. I also
met with Prime Minister Meles and a number of relief offcials in
The government's decision not to establish feeding camps is a wise
one. The camps only exacerbate the crisis because they allow
diseases to spread much more quickly and take people away from
their homes and albeit limited support systems. In 1984, many
families traveled great distances to reach the camps and by the
time they got there were often near death. Moreover, villagers who
left for the camps and somehow managed to survive had nothing to
return to because they had lost their homes and sold their
Fortunately, relief organizations, including U. S. AID and the
United Nations World Food Programme, have developed an early
warning system to better predict the effects of the looming crisis
and have been sounding the alarm since the fall.
Nevertheless, they are facing an uphill battle. Donor fatigue is a
very real problem.
Competing World Crises
Getting the world - and the United States, in particular - to
focus on the issue is diffcult because of the war on terrorism, the
situation in Iraq and the growing crisis in North Korea.
Since August 2002, the United States has provided approximately
430,000 metric tons of food, valued at $179 million. This amount
constitutes approximately 25 percent of the total need in the
country. The U. S. government will need to do more to avert a
disaster of biblical proportions.
Before leaving on the trip, a number of well read people in the
Washington area looked at me quizzically when I told them I was
going to Ethiopia. They all asked why? When I told them that the
country was facing another famine along the scale of 1984, they
Time is of the essence. A village can slip dramatically in just a
matter of weeks. Many of the children I saw last week will be dead
by early February and those who do somehow miraculously survive
will be severely retarded. The world cannot afford to wait any
I also visited neighboring Eritrea, where the situation is not much
better. Widespread crop failures are expected as a result of the
drought. Compounding the situation are the lingering effects of its
war with Ethiopia, which ended in December 2000. While nearly
200,000 refugees and displaced persons have been reintegrated into
society following the truce, almost 60,000 have been unable to
return to their homes due to the presence of land mines, unexploded
ordnance, insecurity or the simple fact that the infrastructure
near their homes has been completely destroyed.
- Donors, including the United States, must make prompt and
signifcant food-aid pledges to help Ethiopia overcome its current
crisis. The food pipeline could break down as early as next month
if donors do not act immediately. There are a number of countries,
Canada and France, for instance, that can and should do more.
- The Offce of Management and Budget ( OMB) must work to ensure
that the U. S. assistance is released as quickly as possible.
- When President Bush visits Africa, he should consider going to
Ethiopia. I believe he would be moved by what he sees.
- The Bush Administration should make an effort to rally public sup
port similar to what was done during the 1984-85 famine. Perhaps
the new director of faith-based initiatives at USAID should serve
as the coordinator for such an effort.
- Donor support also must include water, seeds and medicine as well
as veterinary assistance.
- The Ethiopian government should take its case to capitals around
the globe, sending representatives to donor nations armed with
photographs of dying children to put a face on the growing crisis.
Regrettably, if they do not ask, they will not receive.
- The Ethiopian government must contribute additional food aid from
its own resources as it did in 2000 and 2002 as a sign of
leadership and commitment to the welfare of its people.
- More must be done to develop long- term strategies to tackle the
root causes of the food shortages in Ethiopia, like improving
irrigation and developing drought-resistant crops. The government
must develop a 10- or 15-year plan designed to help end the
constant cycle of massive food shortages. A well developed plan
would go a long way toward reassuring the international community
that the country wants to end its dependence on handouts.
- The Ethiopian government also should do more to help diversify
its economy. Its largest export - coffee - is subject to huge price
fuctuations in the world market and rather than exporting hides and
leather to Italy and China - only to come back as belts, purses and
shoes - the government should work to attract business that will
make these products on Ethiopian soil.
- The government of Ethiopia also should consider a sweeping land
reform policy that would allow farmers to own their property rather
than the government owning all the country's land, a vestige of the
country's socialist days.
- The media needs to more aggressively pursue this looming crisis.
It was responsible for making the world aware of the terrible
famine that was occurring in 1984 and has the ability to let the
world know about the tragedy unfolding again.
- Many of the same issues that apply to Ethiopia apply to Eritrea.
Both countries are in desperate need of assistance.
Date distributed (ymd): 030129
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+
+US policy focus+ +health+
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