ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — While the world worries about international terrorism and anxieties heighten daily concerning a possible war in Iraq, a largely unsung battle against hunger and starvation is being waged in Ethiopia.
Virtually unnoticed amidst the headlines of the day is the fact that millions of Ethiopians, many of them children and the elderly, are suffering from localized famine conditions caused by severe drought. Some experts believe this could be the worst ever hunger crisis in this nation of 67 million people. In a country where agriculture constitutes 80 percent of the total economy, scarce rains have placed 11 million people at risk of malnutrition and starvation. Before the next harvest, that number could rise to 14 million.
At the request of the Ethiopian government, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is joining an international relief effort to meet immediate needs in this east African nation.
A Church-chartered cargo plane landed here on Wednesday containing an emergency shipment of 80,000 pounds of Atmit, an Ethiopian porridge mix based on a centuries-old recipe. This initial shipment was produced just last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, at Welfare Square, a unique production and services facility that is a key element of the Church’s worldwide welfare and humanitarian program. An additional 200 tons of Atmit is in production at Welfare Square and will be shipped to Ethiopia in ocean-bound containers.
Malnourished little children and the elderly cannot digest whole grains and foods made with coarse flour. To recover, their stressed and tender digestive systems require frequent feedings of easily digestible food in small amounts. Atmit, a bland but nutritious mixture of oat flour, powdered milk, sugar, salt and supplemental vitamins and minerals that is prepared with water and cooking oil, is a proven resource for supplemental feeding of severely malnourished children.
In its emergency response work, the Church’s humanitarian service group always evaluates and assesses needs with local officials to ensure that the aid provided will be put to good use.
Humanitarian Service representatives learned during their assessment visit that Atmit was used successfully during the 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia. Upon their return, they worked with Brigham Young University dieticians and operations managers at Welfare Square to formulate and produce the Atmit mixture that arrived Wednesday.
Working with Project Mercy, a nongovernmental relief agency with long experience in Ethiopia, Church representatives will begin distributing the first shipment of Atmit to rural villages this weekend. Doctors from Project Mercy will oversee supplemental feeding programs and monitor progress in Yetebon and nearby communities in south central Ethiopia.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also contracting with an Ethiopian supplier to produce 3,000 metric tons of Unimix, a corn-soya mixture with added sugar, salt and vitamins. Distribution of the Church-donated Unimix is already underway in cooperation with both Project Mercy and Catholic Relief Services, the overseas relief and development agency of the United States Catholic Conference. Catholic Relief Services is distributing Unimix to seven villages east of Addis Ababa where an estimated 260,000 people are suffering.
Many observers point out that the current drought and ensuing localized famine conditions are worse than the well-known 1984-85 crisis in Ethiopia when a global outpouring of aid helped relieve suffering. Heartbreaking media images of emaciated children motivated governments, relief agencies and individuals to give whatever they could. During the current crisis, international media attention has been diverted elsewhere, leaving much of the world unaware of how dire the situation is in Ethiopia.
U.S. Congressional Representative Frank R. Wolf, (R) Virginia, visited Ethiopia in early January. Representative Wolf reported that he didn’t think anything could compare with what he witnessed in 1984 as a member of a relief team until he saw what confronted him when he returned to Ethiopia in 2003. “This is a world crisis that deserves a compassionate global response,” he said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints previously sent food aid to Ethiopia in 1985 and again in 2000 when grain from Church-owned farms in England was bagged by British Latter-day Saint volunteers and shipped by sea to relieve suffering from food shortages. In 2002, the Church donated food boxes and locally purchased cereal grain to assist famine victims in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and other areas of east Africa. When floods struck Zimbabwe and Mozambique in early 2000, the Church sent nearly 2 million pounds of aid and chartered two helicopters to evacuate victims and deliver critical relief supplies.
Christian principles of compassion and caring for others have always been fundamental teachings of the Church. An organized humanitarian service was formed in 1985 when Church leaders asked Latter-day Saints in the United States and Canada to participate in two special fast days to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, Chad and other sub-Saharan nations. By going without two meals on the designated days and contributing at least the value of the meals missed, Latter-day Saints donated in excess of $11 million, all of which went directly into relief efforts with the Church bearing all administrative expenses.
One reason for the continued expansion of the humanitarian work of the Church stems from an ongoing commitment to minimize overhead expenses. Church members and friends of the Church know that their humanitarian donations will be fully utilized to help people in need.
Since 1985, The Church o f Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has mounted more than 144 major disaster relief projects worldwide. Overall humanitarian assistance rendered since 1985 totals over $89 million in cash donations and more than $456 million in material assistance. All activities are supported largely by Church member donations of funds and volunteer labor.