Poul Nielson

The European Commissioner for Development and Aid responds to an article by Paul Vallely, who criticised what he saw as the EU's failure to send food aid to Ethiopia
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The Independent Online

Under the headline "How the West failed Ethiopia" Paul Vallely in dramatic tones criticised the European Commission for not reacting fast enough to the crisis situation developing in Ethiopia. It is regrettable that an informed journalist like Mr Vallely should get it so wrong.

The main problem is not a shortage of food in the pipeline - it is to get the food delivered to where it is needed. The situation calls for collaboration between all aid agencies involved and the Ethiopian government. We do not need first, second and third press prizes for our efforts. We are all working hard.

During 1999, a total of 209,777 tonnes of EC food aid was shipped to and arrived in Ethiopia. Total Commission food aid presently being off- loaded, shipped or being procured amounts to 282,526 tonnes. An EU shipment of 30,000 tonnes, financed by the EU, arrived in Djibouti over the weekend of 8 April. A further shipment of 16 665 tonnes arrived on 16 April.

The total EC food aid due to arrive in Ethiopia this year is 432 526 tonnes. The EC, therefore, will be financing almost half of the total tonnage required for the year, as estimated by the Ethiopian government.

Ethiopia is the largest beneficiary of EC development assistance. Over the last four years, pounds 150m has been spent on food aid. We have now for 25 years continually been giving food aid to Ethiopia.

The conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea does aggravate the situation. Neither the ports of Assab and Massawa can be used to bring in food. It goes without saying that peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea would improve matters.

Despite the problems, we will get help to the starving, never as fast as we would like, but faster than we used to.