A group of Democratic congressmen touring drought-stricken areas in Africa charged today that the Reagan administration's proposed allocation of emergency food relief falls far short of the continent's needs.
Reps. Howard E. Wolpe (Mich.) and Ted Weiss (N.Y.) said in an interview that they had found ample evidence in this famine-ridden nation to support their view that the United States should be supplying at least $1 billion in supplemental food and other aid to help prevent further starvation in Africa this year.
The administration is expected to propose a supplemental allocation of $237 million, which Wolpe and Weiss said would fall far short of even the administration's own estimate of the continent's 1985 food deficit. "The problem is the administration is unwilling to acknowledge the extent of the need here," said Wolpe, who is chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa.
Weiss said that while officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development were well intentioned, they had caved in too readily to administration budget cutters more concerned about the size of the federal deficit than about African hunger.
"There is far too much readiness on their part to ultimately accept the budget markers' decisions rather than insisting on meeting true needs," said Weiss, a subcommittee member, of AID officials. " AID administrator M. Peter McPherson must be willing to stand up to those in the administration who are willing to gamble with other people's lives."
The two congressmen, who spent two days here along with three Democratic colleagues, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (Md.) and Reps. John Conyers (Mich.) and Jim Moody (Wis.), said their proposal was based upon an administration estimate that Africa will fall at least 3.4 million tons short of food between now and the end of September because of drought and other problems. They have proposed allocating $787 million to cover buying and delivering half that tonnage, expecting Europe and other food donor nations to supply the rest.
Their bill also includes $225 million in nonfood aid, including seeds, farm tools, medicines, rudimentary consumer goods and transportation. The bill, which they introduced two weeks ago, could come up for passage by late February if both Republicans and Democrats agree on its urgency, they said.
The legislators, who left today for Kenya, toured a food distribution center and relief camp yesterday and an orphanage in the port city of Vilancoulos in hard-hit Inhambane Province. About 100,000 people reportedly died there and in two other Mozambican provinces between September 1983 and June last year due to famine.
While the situation has improved this year, thanks to large-scale emergency food assistance from the West, the congressmen said food stocks remain precariously low and transportation of new supplies uncertain because of shortages of fuel and functioning trucks and attacks by antigovernment insurgents.
"The margin of safety is razor thin, and the least interruption of the food supply can mean more deaths," said Wolpe, who added that swifter action last year on the part of aid donors could have saved lives.