The Ethiopian government said today that the famine here will continue into next year, in spite of plentiful rains and hundreds of thousands of tons of donated food, unless large quantities of seeds and farm implements are made available soon to drought-affected farmers.
In calling on the world "to show its generosity again," Dawit Wolde Giorgis, Ethiopia's top famine relief official, said that without shipments from donors of seeds, hoes and plows, "We are going to have this crisis next year and I can assure you this number by estimate 7.9 million famine victims will not decrease next year despite the fact that we have good rains."
The appeal received an immediate positive response here from the United States, the largest aid donor in Ethiopia. A U.S. diplomat said here that the government has been told that the United States will expand its role in Ethiopia to help provide seed and tools to the more than 220,000 famine victims in Ethiopia's 152 feeding centers. The assistance is intended to enable camp residents to go home to their farms.
The prompt U.S. response reflects satisfaction in Washington with the government's reopening this week of Ibnet, the feeding camp that Ethiopian soldiers evacuated and burned two weeks ago.
After first denying reports about the evacuation of Ibnet, the government admitted this week that, in Dawit's words, the way in which the camp was evacuated "was really very bad." The camp was reopened on Tuesday, and more than 35,000 of the 52,000 evacuees had walked back by midweek.
A western diplomat who has watched the Marxist military government here for four years said that Ethiopia's reversal on Ibnet -- ordered by the country's leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam -- "is absolutely extraordinary. This sort of reversal has never happened here."
In Washington, a State Department spokesman welcomed "the prompt and constructive attitude of the Ethiopian government to this crisis and the assurances that such incidents will not reoccur."
The United Nations has been scrambling for two months to distribute seeds to farmers who were forced by famine to eat their seed reserves. About 20 trucks a day haul seed to farmers. According to Roman Roos, the U.N. transportation specialist here, the emergency seed program has just managed to get enough seed corn to farmers in time for planting.
Roos said delivery of seed for other staple crops is threatened by Ethiopia's chronic shortage of trucks. The shortage has prevented the distribution of more than 60 percent of the 331,900 tons of relief food that has arrived in the country's ports since January, according to U.N. figures.
While donors and the Ethiopian government have responded to the shortage with pledges of new trucks and diversion of 70 percent of the country's commercial truck fleet to haul donated food, the United Nations estimates that it will be at least three months before enough trucks are available to unload all the food arriving at the ports.