Famine threatens Ethiopia; IMB mobilizes early response

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (BP)--Southern Baptists have mobilized to help some of the 7.7 million people threatened by an emerging famine in southeastern Ethiopia.

And thanks to a God-inspired gift, workers were able to begin helping even before the crisis hit television screens in the United States.

Three years of drought have destroyed crops and devastated livestock in Ethiopia and six neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa. Regional conflicts are making the delivery of relief supplies difficult, and children and the weak have begun dying from malnutrition-related illnesses.

A 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia -- which claimed 1 million lives -- shocked the world with televised images of starving people. Now the United Nations estimates as many as 16 million people in seven countries are in danger. Governments are trying to deliver massive amounts of grain to the region, hoping a full-blown famine can be averted.

Southern Baptists are working with fellow Baptists and Great Commission Christians, as well as non-governmental organizations, to minister to people who might not be reached by the large-scale programs, said a missions strategist focusing on the region.

"We are seeking to find places where there are gaps that need to be filled in the relief efforts," said the missionary, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons. "We want to mount a response with a more human face than the massive relief projects and put Southern Baptist money and help where it will benefit some of the more forgotten people."

For example, Southern Baptists will assist one NGO in a water development project that should help people weather future droughts, he said. They also are helping churches minister to refugees who are streaming into cities from the countryside and will help deliver grain to places where it's too dangerous for government workers to go.

"In some places, people have gone to the edge and there's nothing left," said the worker, who just returned from a survey trip in the area. "We're trying to make sure people aren't forced to eat their seed grain, so they'll be able to plant if the rains come."

Southern Baptist workers, who have been dealing with the problem for six months, were delighted when an unexpected gift for Ethiopian hunger relief was received.

"Over a month and a half ago, before this crisis even hit the press, some Baptists sent us $7,000 for Ethiopian hunger relief," he said. "We've been able to feed these people on the streets and work through these churches because God moved in the hearts of some Southern Baptists even before the big organizations started moving in.

"In some ways, that couple of loaves and couple of fish are being multiplied because they were there early. We're going to continue to do things that will multiply and make a long-term difference in the lives of people in the Horn of Africa."

Contributions to assist with the famine relief effort may be sent to: International Mission Board, Hunger and Relief Fund - Ethiopia Famine Relief, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230. All donations will go directly to Southern Baptist relief work in the region.

Additional photos and map to be posted in the BP Photo Library.

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