Dying because of debt, not drought
NEARLY 16 million people urgently need food aid in drought-stricken east Africa, and the threat of mass starvation is severe. That is the chilling message from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Hardest hit is Ethiopia, where eight million people are at risk of famine. Aid agencies have called for massive food shipments to prevent a repeat of the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s when 300,000 died. If that agony is repeated it will not be because of drought. Drought is a regular feature in this part of the world. People will die because of political factors. The main intervention by outside powers since 1985 has been to pump wealth out of the region through debt collection.
Total debt is ten times annual exports, and the interest on the debt doubled between 1995 and 1996. Ethiopia was to have been one of the first countries to receive debt relief. But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has blocked that. It has declared Ethiopia "off track" for being too slow with its programme of cuts and privatisation. The suffering will also be made much worse by war in the region. The battles between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been going on for nearly two years. They have killed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.
That war has been fuelled by arms from many European countries-including British firms, which have supplied both sides. The IMF and the World Bank responsible for such suffering are meeting in Washington in the US on 16 April. That is why thousands of people are quite rightly organising mass protests.