Three days after he returned from the African nation of Ethiopia — where more than 13 million people are at risk of starvation — Harold C. Brown said he couldn't think about the entire famine-stricken population. Instead, he said he chooses to remember the few, mostly children and the elderly, that the Church can and is helping.
"We are doing our best to help some," said the managing director of the Welfare Department who also serves as an Area Authority Seventy. "There is no pleasantness in 13 million hungry people in one country alone."
Elder Brown traveled to Ethiopia with Garry R. Flake, director of Church emergency response, to evaluate Ethiopia's current needs and to oversee Church aid being distributed at feeding stations throughout the drought-stricken nation. They returned to Salt Lake City June 14.
"Being in Ethiopia provided me with a renewed interest and understanding of why we are helping," he said in a Church News interview. "To talk about the needs is one thing, but to see the needs is another. . . . To see literally hundreds of children who are without food and needing nourishment and mothers whose arms hold them and whose eyes look at them out of fear and concern, it becomes more personal.
"It makes you grateful for those who contribute and for a Church that helps organize the effort to bless these people and to literally save many lives."
In response to the deepening drought in Ethiopia and renewed appeals from the Ethiopian government and United Nations officials requesting food, the Church has provided more than 5,700 tons of food in two shipments since March.
The situation, said Elder Brown, is tragic: while Ethiopians await a potential crop of food, which will depend on rains, many have little to eat. Agriculture constitutes 80 percent of the total Ethiopian economy; the severe drought in Ethiopia has caused what some experts believe to be the worst hunger crisis in history. According to a report released this month by the Ethiopian government, more than 13 million of the nation's 67 million population subsist on fewer than 900 calories a day.
In some locations, said Elder Brown, there wouldn't be food if the Church didn't provide it.
"It is that simple. It isn't like there is an overabundance of food stored away, that will flow to people in need. There simply isn't enough food."
The Church is the only organization producing Atmit, an Ethiopian porridge mix based on a centuries-old recipe, for the African nation. The porridge, made of oat flour, sugar, powdered milk, and a vitamin/mineral mix verified by nutritionists at BYU, will help malnourished children and the elderly who cannot digest whole grains and food made with coarse flour.
The remainder of the Church aid is in the form of Unimix; the Church, in cooperation with Catholic Relief Service, contracted with an Ethiopian supplier to produce the corn-soya mixture. Distribution of the Church-donated Unimix has been underway since March in cooperation with Project Mercy and Catholic Relief Services.
Later this month, Elder Robert C. Oaks of the Seventy and president of the Africa Southeast Area, is scheduled to meet with top Ethiopian officials to discuss the Church's early and significant lead in providing for the supplemental feeding that is needed for the most vulnerable children and adults.
One reason the Church has been able to respond so quickly, said Elder Brown, is its welfare facilities, where Atmit can be made. The other, he said, is the generosity of members willing to give to people they have never met.
"We have the ability to do it and the desire to do it, and as a humanitarian organization it is well for us to do it," he said.
The aid is not the first sent by the Church to Ethiopia.
In 1984, Church members joined a global outpouring of aid for the African nation, fasting and sending donations and food to the country. Since that time, the Church has been involved also in irrigation and potable water projects in the country, sent books and other aid, and provided medical and dental training. In June 2000, Latter-day Saints in England packaged more than 4,000 tons of wheat for the drought-stricken region.
Brother Flake said the Church will continue to monitor the situation in Ethiopia in the critical months ahead, until crops now growing can be harvested. "You drive around the country and you see some green fields and you think everything is going to be OK. Then you realize that they have to have something to eat until the harvest comes. And [the harvest] is going to require rain to keep it from shriveling and dying."
Until then, he added, Church aid is helping. "It is getting to the end of the line. It is getting to those that need it the most and it is making a significant difference in saving large numbers of children in Ethiopia."