Ethiopian Ministers accuse Oxfam for inflating figures

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Going against a call for the president’s recent policy speech to encourage donors to work with the government in tackling food emergencies, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said various “actors” in the aid industry are exaggerating the situation.

Appearing before parliament a week ago to explain his government’s position on 14 amendment motions tabled by opposition MPs with respect to the president’s speech, which reveal the policy aims of the federal government for the year, Meles said the situation concerning food shortage in the country is very different from the one portrayed by donation-seeking charities.

Both the moderate opposition party, the Ethiopian Democratic Party’s, and parliament’s main opposition group, the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces’ whips had introduced amendment motions demanding an explanation of what the government is doing to alleviate the food shortage millions of Ethiopians are facing after poor rainy seasons.

In response, Meles accused ‘industry actors’, from food producers to shipping companies and even local transporters, of forging a campaign to deliberately inflate the number of people in need of emergency food assistance, and said there is no need to include the appeal in the president’s speech.

Oxfam, an international aid agency, earlier this month appealed for emergency food assistance for nearly 14 million Ethiopians it said are in dire need of assistance. These are among the claims the Ethiopian Government said intentionally exaggerated the severity of the problem in order to attract more donations.

In Ethiopia, 13.7 million people are at risk of severe hunger and need assistance, according to Oxfam, while the government says only 6.2 fit that category. “The ongoing safety net programme has 7.5 million beneficiaries. The program has been in operation for years and is been undertaken by the government after it signed an agreement with various stakeholders.

“Now, what the latest report from Oxfam did is add 7.5 million beneficiaries to the actual people who are in need of emergency food to claim that 13.7 million people are in need of emergency of assistance food,” Tamirat Tsige, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development spokesperson, said that various attempts to correct agencies like Oxfam have fallen on deaf ears.

Howewer, the Ethiopian Government itself does not have a clean record when it comes to telling all regarding victims of drought. Almost a year ago, three days after Meles told parliament that no casualties, either human or animal, had suffered, one of the English language weeklies featured a front page story with a picture of a dead cow that had died from the drought.

Despite the opposition’s outcry, all of the fourteen amendment motions, like the improvement of loan interest rates to curb inflation, were voted down and the president’s speech was adopted.

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