19 June 2003


NEW YORK, 18 June (UN Headquarters) -- In response to the severe drought which has devastated large parts of both Ethiopia and Eritrea, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has announced the appointment of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as his Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa. 

“Both countries are in the grip of a deepening hunger crisis, which is now threatening at least 14 million people with starvation”, said Mr. Annan. 

“Mr Ahtisaari, with his broad experience in world affairs and long career in United Nations diplomacy, has agreed to spearhead our efforts to save lives”.

In Ethiopia, the number of people needing food aid shot up from 11.3 million to 12.5 million during May.  Due to fears that overall food aid resources for 2003 would fall short of the needs, rations were reduced for the first few months of this year.  However, a full cereal ration has been reintroduced now -- for the worst affected districts.  Recently confirmed contributions to the World Food Programme (WFP) and other agencies have improved the pipeline to the end of the year. 

After a fourth year of drought in Eritrea, some 2.3 million people -- or two thirds of the population -- are in need of food assistance.  The worst crop failure since its independence in 1993 has left some 40 per cent of the country’s women and children chronically malnourished.  Because of low resourcing, the WFP has only been able to assist 400,000 drought-affected people with a 60 per cent ration.

“This current drought represents yet another shock especially to the children and the elderly, who are still trying to recover from a major drought just two years ago.  While the international community has responded fast to our earlier appeals, we sense that there is a distinct lack of commitment to recovery and development”, said James T. Morris, the WFP’s Executive Director.

Ethiopia has the highest per capita emergency support of any country in the world and the lowest per capita development support.  The challenge facing the Special Envoy to the Horn is not only to mobilize urgently needed emergency resources, but also to pave the way for a fundamental reform programme, and its financing, so that Ethiopia and Eritrea are less vulnerable to future droughts. 

Other elements of the crisis also need to be addressed.  While food aid is the overwhelming requirement, it is not enough to prevent famine in the two countries.  Lack of food and poor nutrition, combined with inadequate and unsafe water make people vulnerable to disease, which is the primary cause of death during famines. 

The Secretary-General also highlighted his concern about prevailing HIV/AIDS rates in the region, and the severe effect the pandemic is having on populations already weakened by hunger.  He stressed the critical need for longer-term activities and investment projects across both the health and food sectors.

Mr. Ahtisaari, who was President of Finland from 1994 to 2000, has served the United Nations many times in his career -- as United Nations Commissioner for Namibia from 1977 to 1981; and subsequently as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Namibia.  In 1987, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar appointed him as Under-Secretary-General for Administration and Management -- a post which he held until 30 June 1991.  From September 1992 to April 1993, Mr. Ahtisaari was Chairman of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Working Group of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia.  Beginning in July 1993, for a period of four months, Mr. Ahtisaari served as Special Adviser to the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia, and as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Ahtisaari was also appointed earlier this week as one of the Secretary-General’s experts dealing with follow up to the Declaration and Programme of Action of the 2001 World Conference against Racism.

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