Statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes on Food Assistance to Ethiopia

October 30, 1984

As you know, the President has taken a personal interest in the famine situation in Africa, particularly the current crisis in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia's relief Commissioner Dawit Walde Giorgis will be in Washington Thursday, November 1, to meet with U.S. officials involved in the emergency food supply effort, including General Julian Becton, Director, Interagency Task Force on African Hunger, and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator M. Peter McPherson.

The President discussed the situation in Ethiopia with Administrator McPherson by telephone Friday, and talked by telephone to Mother Teresa, who has requested U.S. assistance for projects she has undertaken there. The President asked Administrator McPherson to call Mother Teresa and offer additional assistance which he did.

In December 1983, the President asked for a high level interagency study of the worldwide hunger situation. This study was chaired by Ambassador Robert Keating, the President's envoy to Madagascar and Comoros. The President announced on July 10 of this year a major initiative to respond more quickly and effectively to the food needs of the people of Africa and the world suffering from hunger and malnutrition. His five-point program, announced then, includes:

1.The prepositioning of grain in selected Third World areas;

2.The creation of a special $50 million Presidential fund to allow a more flexible U.S. response to severe food emergencies;

3.The financing or payment of ocean and inland transportation costs associated with U.S. food aid in special emergency cases;

4.The creation of a government task force to provide better forecasts of food shortages and needs; and

5.The establishment of an advisory group of business leaders to share information on Third World hunger and food production.

In 1984 we have provided more food assistance to Africa than any administration in U.S. history. Our drought assistance for all of Africa last year totaled $173 million, which is twice the amount of 1983 assistance and three times the amount of 1982 assistance. For Ethiopia alone in this fiscal year, since October 1, 1984, we have obligated $45 million in drought assistance. This compares to $19 million last year to Ethiopia, which was the largest from any donor country.

With regard to the situation in Ethiopia, since October 2 aid to Ethiopia has included:

-- $39 million for the shipment of 80,432 metric tons of food, one-fourth of which will be delivered to rebel-held areas of Eritria and Tigray through Sudan;

-- $6.3 million in response to a Red Cross appeal for medicines and supplies;

-- $100,000 for air transport of food to Makele, a central Ethiopian town cut off by frequent clashes along the road from the port.

The pressing short-term constraint is the distribution of food supplies now in country. Limiting factors include the shortage of trucks, poor roads, the insurgency, and the lack of support by the Ethiopian Government. To deal with some of these problems we have in recent days been providing gasoline for some Ethiopian Government planes to move food in country and are working with some private groups to augment that effort. In our meetings with Ethiopian officials this week, we will ask for more trucks to be made available, for priority access to port facilities, and for assurances that food can reach victims in rebel areas.

For the medium term, Western food aid commitments will keep the pipeline of emergency food full to capacity. Between now and the end of the year, approximately 200,000 metric tons will be arriving. For the longer term, we are developing with private agencies plans for the distribution of an additional 200,000 metric tons, along with medicines, blankets, and other supplies. However, assessments of the need continue to rise, and the medium- and long-term requirements may increase substantially.

Basic to this whole effort is a more cooperative attitude from the Ethiopian Government and the dedication of more of their own resources. They reportedly spent a substantial amount for their Independence Day celebration, but have paid little attention to this problem. There are more than 6,000 trucks under government control for example, but only a few hundred are now available for emergency food shipments. However, we do sense some greater interest from them and we hope our negotiations this week with them will be productive.

The President will continue to monitor our relief efforts, and he has asked Administrator McPherson to report new developments to him.