PETER CAVE: Ethiopia has battled famine for more than 30 years but now there’s been a turn for the worse.
The United Nations says it’s run out of food for at least five million Ethiopians who rely on its help.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the Ethiopian Government’s decision to prioritise fertiliser imports before food aid at its crowded port.
Bronwyn Herbert reports.
BRONWYN HERBERT: For decades Ethiopia has relied on millions of tonnes of donated food.
Now its stockpiles are empty.
BARRY CAME: We’ve run out of food for relief victims. That’s about five million people. The last food available for these people is currently being distributed, when that’s done there’s nothing left.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Barry Came works for the United Nations World Food Program in Ethiopia.
He says a combination of drought, high food prices and a drop in donor funds have all contributed to the food shortage.
But he says the problem has been exacerbated by the difficulty of actually getting food into Ethiopia.
BARRY CAME: It’s a land locked country, as you probably know, and it has one main port and that’s Djibouti. Djibouti is severely congested and once you get the food out off the ships of Djibouti, then there’s a severe shortage of trucks to ship it around the country.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Why is it that the port is in such a poor state in terms of congestion?
BARRY CAME: The Djibouti Port is always congested. It’s the only way into this country, the natural Ethiopian ports are in Eritrea, but Eritrea and Ethiopia are not talking to each other and haven’t been for some time. They even fought a couple of wars. And you now, after all it’s a country of 80-million people serviced by one serviced by one port in a neighbouring country, so it’s always, always a problem.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Barry Came says food aid has now been forced down the priority list.
BARRY CAME: The Government has decided that fertilisers should be prioritised, which has pushed food relief down the list a bit. The Government argues that the fertilisers should have high priority because without those fertilisers the situation for the 2009 harvest will be even worse than it’s shaping up to be.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Tim Costello is the head of World Vision Australia and says the situation is extremely serious.
TIM COSTELLO: This isn’t crying wolf’s tears or scare tactics. We have known since March that by June the food supplies would run out, we have known with the global financial crisis that aid levels have been shrinking but this is a real crisis that the world needs to respond to.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Just how generous does the world need to be to alleviate this situation?
TIM COSTELLO: Well, all of us who remember the 1983/1984 Ethiopian disaster do not want to go back there, that was just horrific and the appeal by the World Food Program to particularly rich nations is this is critical, don’t turn away your head.
PETER CAVE: Tim Costello from World Vision Australia ending that report from Bronwyn Herbert.