Apr 27 2004

By Martti Ahtisaari (*)

HELSINKI, Jan (IPS) – Jumping from crisis to crisis is becoming
unbearable for the people in the Horn of Africa, for the humanitarian
community, and for donors as well. Development in the region has to be
steered to a more sustainable basis as the frequency of severe
droughts seems to have increased.

As a result of failed rains in 2002, both Ethiopia and Eritrea still
face serious food shortages and the humanitarian consequences of
increased destitution among the most vulnerable segments of society.

Between six and ten million people currently require food and other
forms of assistance in the Horn of Africa, yet a major emergency could
be prevented this time as a result of the early warnings of impending
crisis and prompt action by donors, local governments, and the
humanitarian community.

In Ethiopia –a huge country of over 70 million people– a major
disaster was indeed averted in 2003 through a remarkable collective
effort. Still, significant humanitarian needs remain, especially in
non-food sectors. It will be necessary to continue large-scale
humanitarian efforts in 2004 and to maintain the current momentum of

Requirements remain substantial, especially in worst affected areas
where malaria and a variety of infectious diseases are hitting the
physically weak harder than usual.

There are also very difficult policy issues, like the question of
land. The average size of a farm is one hectare, which can’t feed a
family of five even in good years.

The government of Ethiopia is now implementing plans that relocate
people to provide them with twice the amount of land.
As the experiences of other countries have shown, making people move
is always a controversial approach.

The state-owned land is not fully privatised but people are granted
very long-term ownership rights, which they can transfer to their
children. This makes the farmers much more committed to the land and
more eager to make improvements.

The Ethiopian government is reluctant to implement full privatisation
of the land because of the fear that people might sell their plots
–their only asset– and place themselves totally at the mercy of
outside help.

In Eritrea –a country of 3.6 million people– there are several
worrying indicators. About two-thirds of the population now live below
the poverty line, with at least half of these in extreme poverty.
Child malnutrition is high, and up to 53 percent of households are
headed by women.

With the increase in the frequency of severe droughts and humanitarian
crisis, we are entering a period in the Horn of Africa in which the
underlying causes of these problems must be addressed urgently and

In the case of Eritrea, three central areas will require attention in
order to achieve more long-term results: (1) meeting outstanding
humanitarian funding requirements, which is instrumental in building
the foundations for recovery and development, (2) improving the
dialogue between the government and donors, and (3) finalising the
demarcation process of the disputed border between Ethiopia and

The government of Eritrea indicated that a sense of insecurity is
preventing a more rapid demobilisation. Given the considerable impact
that the general labour shortage and absence of farmers from their
land is having on the humanitarian situation, it will be critical to
have demarcation carried out on an urgent basis.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bitter and disastrous war in 1998-2000
over the border line in Badme; this same section of the border is
again being disputed.

It is generally agreed that the time has come for the World Bank to
take the leading role in the long-term development efforts and for the
international donor community to concentrate its efforts in the Horn
of Africa.

It will be much more cost effective if we manage to shift development
towards increasing independence in production and food security.

Once we have identified the programmes that are needed (this process
is well underway) the international community must look into financing
them in a slightly longer-term perspective –a five year period as a
minimum– and commit itself to these targets in order to achieve real
progress in the area. It will only become more difficult if we fail to

(*) Martti Ahtisaari was the president of Finland in 1994-2000.
In June 2003 he was appointed the UN secretary general special envoy
for the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-south relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona’s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio

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