Even with the relief that the rainy season has brought to drought-stricken Africa, some countries will continue to be threatened by a crisis that "shows no prospect of abating in the foreseeable future," Abdou Diouf, the president of Senegal and chairman of the Organization of African Unity, said here yesterday.
Diouf was the featured speaker for the opening session of a three-day conference on drought and desertification being held at Howard University. He told a near-capacity audience at Howard's Cramton Auditorium that Africa's future depends on the world's long-term response rather than stopgap reactions to the problems caused by drought, a decline in food production and land damaged by overcultivation, deforestation and overgrazing.
"While emergency aid can help ease the misery of the afflicted peoples and alleviate their suffering," Diouf said, "the fact remains that the true solutions to the serious problems the countries afflicted by drought and desertification are facing are medium-term and long-term solutions."
Although Africa once produced enough food to feed its people, more than one-fourth of the continent's 531 million people were fed with grain from abroad in 1984.
During the last 50 years, the desert has engulfed more than 143 million acres that once produced crops, according to the United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office.
Robert Cummings, director of Howard's African Studies and Research Program, said the conference was designed to get donor organizations in the United States and black Americans, in particular, to focus on the importance of providing financial and technical assistance for development in African counties.
"We fear that now that the rains have come that people in the U.S. will begin to believe that all is well because the drought issue was merely a lack of rain," said Cummings.
"We don't want that kind of conclusion to be reached."
The conference also deals with the role of the media in reporting the African crisis. Djibril Diallo, chief of information for the United Nation's Office for Emergency Operations in Africa, said that despite "heroic efforts on the part of African people to deal with the situation . . . the news stories continued to portray them as passive bystanders in the midst of a mess of their own making."