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Cablegate: Food Crisis Worsens As Relief Challenges Persist

VZCZCXRO3078
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2262/01 2311426
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 181426Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1723
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEPADJ/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 4340
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3168
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 6511
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 7481
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHDC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 ADDIS ABABA 002262

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE DEPARTMENT AF/E, AF/PDPA, OES, AND PRM/AFR
USAID AFR KALMQUIST, EGAST, CTHOMPSON
DCHA/AA MHESS
DCHA/OFDA KLUU AND RMT/HORN
DCHA/FFP JBORNS, JDWORKEN
USDA/FAS FOR U/S PENN, RTILSWORTH, AND LPANASUK
NAIROBI FOR OFDA/ECARO JMYER, GPLATT, RFFPO NCOX
ROME FOR FODAG
USEU FOR PBROWN
GENEVA FOR NKYLOH, RMA
NSC FOR PMARCHAN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PHUM EAGR PGOV ET
SUBJECT: FOOD CRISIS WORSENS AS RELIEF CHALLENGES PERSIST

REF: ADDIS 1943; ADDIS 1926; ADDIS 1961

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) After almost a year of sustained U.S. and donor engagement
with the Ethiopian Government (GoE) to respond to the growing food
crisis, the GoE appears intent on obfuscating the facts on the
ground and is unable or unwilling to support the humanitarian
response. Rather than openly acknowledging the extent of the
problem and expediting or facilitating relief, the Prime Minister's
Office, Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency (DPPA), and
customs officials continue business as usual with little sense of
urgency. An assessment of the short "belg" rains suggests that
nearly ten million Ethiopians now require food relief, but the GoE
has yet to announce a new appeal and has prohibited the release of
donor estimates of numbers in need. DPPA is yet to engage
adequately to implement a hub-and-spoke system to facilitate food
distribution in the Somali region which the Deputy Prime Minister
approved on July 16. It is clear that the drought, failure of
seasonal crops, large loss of livestock, and hikes in market prices
have inflicted a devastating impact upon livelihoods for at least 15
percent of the Ethiopian population.

2. (SBU) Embassy Addis Ababa continues to engage GoE officials to
encourage them to better implement their commitments toward more
effective relief distribution. USAID Mission Director recently met
with the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and the visiting WFP Chief
Logistician to press for more expeditious action on logistics and
access to respond to needs of the affected populations, especially
in Somali region. Sustained GoE impediments continue to prevent us
from assessing humanitarian conditions in the Ogaden, and with the
onset of drought, again thrust us onto the verge of preventable
widespread malnutrition and loss of life in Ethiopia. Without
continued high-level engagement to ensure GoE implementation, our
diplomatic efforts and massive assistance will still fall short of
saving lives. End Summary.

BELG ASSESSMENT: NUMBER AT RISK DOUBLES
---------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Despite the clear failure of the belg rains, the GoE
announced on June 12 that 4.6 million Ethiopians were in need of
food relief assistance. Joint Ethiopian and donor teams conducted
field visits in early July to assess the belg harvest performance
and its implications for people at risk. The GoE has yet to release
the formal revised figures, but assessment team members suggest that
over 10 million Ethiopian now need relief assistance. The Disaster
Prevention and Preparedness Agency (DPPA) advised assessment mission
participants not to release figures from their teams' specific
findings.

4. (SBU) Donors expect the GoE to release an updated appeal in
coming days noting between 8.9 and 9.4 million in need of food
relief assistance. The initial belg assessment readout for Somali
region increased the number in need from one million to almost two
million with a stern warning that another million would need
assistance if immediate action is not taken. These figures do not
include the 5.6 million Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP)
beneficiaries previously noted as being in need of additional
assistance. As the country required 591,333 MT of relief food to
accommodate the previously announced 4.6 million beneficiaries, this
doubling of the number of people in need will certainly increase
Ethiopia's relief food needs by several hundred thousand tons.

A STOP AND GO RESPONSE
----------------------

ADDIS ABAB 00002262 002 OF 005

5. (SBU) Each month, the DPPA sets the relief food allocation
figures for each food receiving woreda. In recent months, however,
the trend has been for these allocation figures to only be released
around the 20th of each month. Food is then dispatched to
destination woredas for the next roughly ten days. By the end of
the month, the process stops, no additional food is dispatched.
Dispatched food does continue to be distributed to beneficiaries in
areas that have received their dispatches. Woredas lower on the
priority list, to which allocated food has not been dispatched by
the end of the month, however, do not receive food. The hiatus in
dispatching new food is then only resumed when DPPA sets the next
month's allocation around the 20th of the month. In light of such
stammered food distribution dynamics and the pipeline shortfalls
resulting from the depleted EFSRA warehouse stocks, relief agencies
and the GoE have agreed to reduce the monthly per person food ration
to approximately two-thirds of the standard ration to help spread
available food further. The July emergency food allocations in Fik,
Warder, and Jijiga zones in Somali Region were cancelled. Fik and
Warder did receive a June food allocation, but there has not been a
food delivery in Jijiga since April.

SOMALI REGION: A STICK IN THE SPOKES (AND HUBS)
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (SBU) On July 16, the Ambassador and USAID/Ethiopia Mission
Director secured the Deputy Prime Minister's (DPM) agreement for the
establishment of a "Hub and Spokes" food distribution scheme in the
Somali region (Ref. C). The system, recommended by the U.S.
Humanitarian Assistance Team (HAT) since February and long sought by
the WFP, would establish forward warehouses for relief supplies in
Gode and Degehabur (the hubs), from which a series of localized
distribution "spokes" would stem. In response to the DPM's
agreement, the GoE and donors established a Somali region Special
Committee on July 16 composed of representatives from DPPA, USAID,
and two NGOs to direct operational aspects of implementing the hub
and spoke system. The GoE, however, has so delegated representation
at Special Committee meetings that GoE representatives are unwilling
to make any decision or commitment without later again vetting the
issue with superiors. This dynamic has severely hindered progress
of the Committee. At the same time, over the past month the central
government has reneged on commitments by the Somali regional
government and denied WFP requests to rent land or establish
warehouse space in Gode which would be the foundation of the western
hub. WFP has analyzed the situation in getting food both from the
port and delivered to the hubs and is optimistic that there is
sufficient internal trucking capacity. WFP has offered to bring in
long-haul trucks from Sudan if the delivery from the port cannot be
managed by local transport.

7. (SBU) In a further step in impeding relief in Somali region, the
GoE announced on July 23 a new list of 13 NGOs authorized to expand
operations in the Somali region. Notably, several NGOs
currently-active in providing humanitarian relief in Somali region
-- including MSF-Holland and Switzerland and Action Contre la Faim
-- are excluded from the GoE's latest list of endorsed NGOs. DPPA
refuses to discuss allowing the operation of any NGO beyond these
13, but in the absence of a formal GoE direction otherwise, the UN's
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) has
advised other NGOs currently operating in the region to continue
with on-going activities.

CONTINUING ACCESS AND INFORMATION CONSTRAINTS
---------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) While the GoE has maintained recurrent access restrictions
on the media, international community, and NGO partners for the

ADDIS ABAB 00002262 003 OF 005


Ogaden areas of the Somali Region over the past year, over the past
two months it has also begun blocking information on the extent of
the drought. Following the release of several drought stories in
major international newspapers in June, GoE authorities have
informed humanitarian and food relief providers not to share
information about the drought or their activities with foreigners or
the media (Ref. B). Implementing partners have also been advised
not to permit the photographing of drought-affected individuals or
animals. Afraid that disclosure could jeopardize the continuation
of their activities, implementing partners have begun telling U.S.
Mission officials that they cannot share information with us about
even USG-funded drought response activities at the local level. GoE
security officials threatened international NGO staff members,
including from MSF-Switzerland, on June 8 with expulsion from
Ethiopia if they made any report of the humanitarian situation to
the press. Further, instead of granting long term work permits for
international NGO staff members as stipulated in project agreements
with NGOs, in at least some cases the GoE has instead approved only
non-renewable six-week work authorizations for international staff,
thus impeding continuity of operations.

BORROWING FROM RURAL PETER TO SUBSIDIZE URBAN PAUL
--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (SBU) Learning lessons from previous droughts, Ethiopia formally
established an autonomous Emergency Food Security Reserve
Administration (EFSRA) in 1992 to maintain warehouses of
pre-positioned relief food to be dispatched quickly with the on-set
of drought. EFSRA has warehouse capacity of 405,000 MT. The
Reserve was established with contributions from donors, WFP, and
NGOs. Over the past two years, the Ethiopian Grain Trading
Enterprise (EGTE) has "borrowed" over 208,000 MT of relief food,
from the EFSRA to distribute at subsidized rates to the urban poor.
(Note: As donors and technical advisory committee members, both
USAID and WFP have repeatedly raised concerns over loans to EGTE for
non-emergency purposes and about overdue loans to EGTE and opposed
the final 40,000 MT loan. End Note.) As a result of this borrowing,
EFSRA stocks were largely depleted as the current drought surfaced.
Entering June with a balance of only 23,000 MT, EGTE's "borrowing"
from EFSRA left Ethiopia's 4.6 million in need subjected to pipeline
breaks and overwhelmingly reliant on new shipments of relief food.
Although the EGTE has maintained food stores in its own warehouses,
it has refused to use these to "repay" the EFSRA as the price of
food today is much higher than it was when the food was borrowed.
It has, however, offered to sell its stocks to donor countries at
current market prices.

10. (SBU) On August 5, a USAID FSN observed approximately 50 MT of
USAID-provided wheat in EGTE stores for sale at roughly one-third of
the prevailing market price. The food remained packaged in branded
USAID bags which were clearly marked "not for re-sale." Bag lot
numbers revealed them to be from a recent shipment of food intended
for drought relief, raising concerns about possible diversion in
clear violation of USG regulations.

11. (SBU) Because of the effects of hyper food inflation (Ref. A) in
the restive, relatively pro-opposition urban centers, the GoE
decided in late May to import 150,000 MT of wheat to distribute at
subsidized prices in twelve cities throughout the country. This
food, which the EGTE announced on August 7 has begun arriving in
country, will also not be used to "repay" the EGTE's debt to the
food security reserve despite the 216,400 MT shortfall in relief
food that the initial 4.6 million beneficiaries face. (Note: The
216,400 MT shortfall is valued at U.S. $176 million and includes a
136,400 MT shortfall of mixed commodities for relief, 68,000 MT of
cereals for the PSNP, and 12,000 MT of blended foods and oil for
therapeutic supplementary feeding. End Note.) Although the GoE has

ADDIS ABAB 00002262 004 OF 005


now diverted 700 of the approximately 1,500 trucks dedicated to
relief efforts, WFP does not feel that this will interrupt their
operations at this time. There is, however, concern about the
adequate availability of trucks during the peak in September when
WFP, USAID, PSNP, and EGTE are expecting large shipments of food.
EGTE is expecting 150,000 MT of grain, 60,000 MT in August and
90,000 MT in September for delivery to EGTE stores in urban
centers.

USG AND DONOR EFFORTS TO OVERCOME GOE OBSTACLES
--------------------------------------------- --

12. (SBU) Sustained USG engagement on the Somali region crisis and
drought has proven critical to break the logjams in securing a GoE
response. The DPM's agreement to establish a hub and spoke scheme
on July 16 is another example. The past 15 months, however, have
shown that while senior engagement is necessary to secure broad GoE
commitments, such commitments are not necessarily implemented
without constantly bird-dogging the process. Recognizing the
challenge, WFP has deployed its Deputy Chief Operating Officer
Ramiro da Silva to Ethiopia for most of August. USAID Mission
Director joined Mr. da Silva's meeting with the DPM both to press
the DPPA to expedite decision making and implementation,
particularly to move forward with the hub and spoke scheme as well
as NGO approvals and WFP access for monitoring. Surprisingly, (and
somewhat contradictorily) the DPM himself agreed and bemoaned the
problems with the DPPA and Somali regional government, both of which
he himself has disempowered and weakened. The DPM also expressed
his doubt that the belg assessment numbers of Ethiopians in need of
relief are correct, arguing that regional governments were inflating
figures to get additional resources.

13. (SBU) USAID's Mission Director also raised WFP/Ethiopia's own
logistics shortfalls with Mr. da Silva. In an effort to elicit more
senior GoE representation on the Somali Region Special Committee,
USAID Mission Director and USAID staff participated in a recent
meeting pressing for action on NGO approvals, etc. and recommending
that heads of various UN and donor agencies begin participating to
raise the level of the Committee meetings. Post briefed Health and
Human Services Secretary Leavitt on the situation and Secretary
Leavitt pressed Prime Minister Meles on August 11 to expand
humanitarian access and facilitate deliveries in response to the
drought. These steps will likely create greater engagement to move
the GoE toward improving relief efforts. Still, the continued
engagement of the Ambassador and USAID Mission Director, the
September visit of USAID/DCHA Assistant Administrator Hess and Food
For Peace Director Borns, and engagement by other senior Washington
officials will likely be required to secure sustained GoE momentum
in responding to relief needs.

COMMENT
-------

14. (SBU) While the GoE's impediments to the provision of
humanitarian relief are likely borne more out of pride than malice,
the impact on the needy is the same. Recent press interviews
suggest that the GoE is focused more on retaining potential
investors than responding to humanitarian needs. On August 6 Prime
Minister Meles told TIME magazine that the impressions of
hopelessness caused by the food emergency "might do lasting damage
given that investors make their assessments on the basis of the
24-hour news cycle." The Prime Minister seemed more intent on
attracting investors in his August 5 interview with the L.A. Times,
in which he argued that the "emergency is occurring in an
environment of spectacular success in agriculture...the vast
majority of farmers have never had it so good."


ADDIS ABAB 00002262 005 OF 005


15. (SBU) It is clear that constant USG and donor prodding on the
implementation of the commitments secured is just as crucial to
relieving the suffering of the 10 million Ethiopians at risk. In
the short term, Post continues to engage GoE officials at the
senior-most levels to move expeditiously to facilitate the delivery
of relief goods. We encourage all visiting USG officials to do the
same. While safeguards and lessons learned from previous droughts
could mitigate humanitarian crises, they are only as good as they
are implemented. In the absence of agricultural market reforms and
GoE respect for EFSRA safeguards, we will be unable to break the
cycles of Ethiopian famines and U.S. bail-outs. End Comment.

MALAC

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