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Speaking Out videos: Famine and forced relocations in Ethiopia 1984-1986

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October 1984 - BBC - interview Dr. Brigitte Vasset, MSF:F Medical coordinator, on famine in Korem, Ethiopia

October 1984 - BBC - Michael Burke’s report on famine - interview Dr. Brigitte Vasset, MSF:F Medical coordinator, on famine in Korem, Ethiopia

23 December 1984 - Antenne 2 - Interview MSFF Dr. Francis Charhon, on famine and MSF aid in Ethiopia

TV presenter: “Do they know it’s Christmas?” Here’s the record. And even the Herald Tribune has devoted a whole page to Ethiopia in its European weekend edition, with these pictures of the desolation. So this evening, we’ve invited Francis Charhon from Médecins sans Frontières to talk to us about what he has seen. Thank you for coming tonight. You're just back from Ethiopia…

Francis Charhon: Yes, I’m just back from Ethiopia, and I must say that in the seven years I’ve worked for Médecins sans Frontières I’ve never seen anything like it. We have encountered all kinds of situations, famines and wars. But this is the first time with such huge numbers of people. We're talking about millions and millions; eight million people are affected by the famine and some 500,000 or 600,000 have already died of hunger and hunger alone.

Journalist: You went to Ethiopia last June.

Francis Charhon: I went for the first time in February.

Journalist: February...

Francis Charhon: And we launched a mission that is still going but has grown a lot since then: there were four doctors and nurses to start with and now there are twenty-two. And we’ve been trying to address the needs over there. Towards July, we thought the situation was improving a bit.

Journalist: You went back in July, is that right?

Francis Charhon: Yes, that's right.

Journalist: But in fact you’ve seen things get worse this year, between February and December 84?

Francis Charhon: Yes, we thought that things had calmed down a bit in July. But it was a false impression. People went home because it was the rainy season; they went back to plant their crops. But then the rain didn’t come, and so masses of people came back to the food distribution centres; it was absolutely incredible! For example, where we were working, we saw 80,000 people from all over arrive for treatment. But we couldn’t do much, because drugs aren’t enough: they needed food, nutrition.

Journalist: And what do you actually do in the field, on site?

Francis Charhon : Well, we treat people, like doctors usually do, but like I said, we have been at a loss because it isn’t enough to give people medicine, they need food too. So now we’ve changed the way we work and we’re also providing milk and special high-protein foodstuffs. But the needs are gigantic. We have to bring in 40 tonnes of milk and 20 tonnes of special high-protein foodstuffs every month, which means we need gigantic amounts of aid. The truth is that the situation hasn’t had as much media attention in France as in England, for example, so we hope you’ll keep doing what you’re doing.

Journalist: Yes, earlier tonight on TF1, Jean-Loup Dabadie, who everyone knows of course, was saying how difficult this subject is to talk about. I’ll quote him. He said: “We say all the right things. We’re sincere at the time. It makes us feel better or guilty for a while, but then we all sit down to eat”. My question is very simple: what can be done, what can we actually do, rather than thinking of ourselves first, our own personal pleasures?

Francis Charhon: I don’t think people need to feel guilty about the way they live. I think it’s more a question of solidarity. It’s true that if we can save a little and give a little to show solidarity with these countries, if everyone gives a bit of money, like he was saying this evening, it’s true that all these small gestures will help us provide a lot of things on site. We’re the only French medical organisation working over there, and if we receive donations and food, we’ll make sure it all gets through and it’ll help save thousands of women and children.

Journalist: It’s true that, for example, in a dispatch I read that 20,000 tonnes of French wheat have been sent out to the Sahel by the French Federation of Cereal Cooperatives. So some action is being taken. But in the States, American emergency aid is being sent out tomorrow for the Ethiopian refugees. And 10,000 doses of measles vaccine are also due to arrive in Ethiopia tomorrow, and a military aircraft landed in Kousala in Sudan today, carrying water tanks, medical tents and 4500 blankets. The movement seems to be much stronger in the States, and in the UK and Germany. A French Euro MP was telling me recently that he hadn’t received many letters and that his English and German colleagues were receiving much more mail. Perhaps there’s less awareness on our side.

Francis Charhon: Yes, like I said, we’re the only French organisation out there, so less information is getting back, whereas England and Germany have had a very strong presence in these countries for a long time. These are British zones of influence and they send back vast amounts of information. Films have been shown on British television that have really affected people. But I think this famine is likely to go on for another eight or ten months. So even if we’re late getting started, it’s never too late in any case.

Journalist: It’s not too late to think about others.

Francis Charhon: I think we have to keep going. Things are going to be difficult until July or maybe even October of next year.

Journalist: They were expecting rain that never came?

Francis Charhon: It should have rained in July and August, but the rain never came or not enough of it to make any difference. The next rains could come in February, but it'll only be light rainfall. The main rains are usually in July, August and September. If there’s as little next year as there was this year, it’ll be an absolute disaster. But for the moment, the only think we’ve got time to think about is the emergency. We’ll try to look at development issues, agronomy problems, etc. later. But for now our only priority is the emergency.

Journalist: For the moment, it’s the emergency.

Francis Charhon: Yes, the emergency.

Journalist: You’re providing medical care.

Francis Charhon: Of course. But every morning you get up and you see that a hundred people have died in the night, died of cold, disease - typhus and diseases like that, and of hunger too. It’s very depressing to be helpless to prevent people from dying. And every morning, imagine 100 deaths a day on just one site, that’s 3000 a month. And there are loads of places like that across the country, so it's a problem that has to be dealt with now, immediately.

Journalist: Still, it’s fantastic what all the British rock stars have done, getting together like that and of course donating the profits from the sale of this record. Here’s another reminder of the title, it’s on sale now, it’s not in French, it’s “Do they know it’s Christmas?” It’s really amazing what they’ve done.

Francis Charhon: I think it’s fantastic. If we could do the same thing in France, it would be phenomenal! I think the French are just as generous as the English, so there's no reason why not. But of course, this is an awareness issue, and there are times when we’re more open to this kind of thing than others. But the needs are enormous and I think it’s really crucial for people to help us with records or in any way they can.

Journalist: This was a subject that needed airing, thank you for coming here to talk to us tonight.

Francis Charhon: Thank you for the opportunity.

Thank you again Francis Charron, and don’t forget, "Do they know it's Christmas?".

BBC - 'Band Aid' 

Link to Video

December 1984 - EUP - Famine en Ethiopie, le désespoir

7 October 1985 - Antenne 2 - Chanteurs Sans Frontières aide MSF

TV presenter: A concert without borders is happening at the Courneuve next Sunday, a benefit concert by the French singers who made the record in support of the famine victims in Ethiopia. 2 million copies of this record have already been sold and one billion francs donated to Médecins sans Frontières.
So how is this money being spent? That’s the big question – one that has also been asked by the American singers and the organisers of the concerts at Wembley and in Philadelphia. Hugues Auffray is one of these French singers. In fact, he’s the one behind the record. He’s been out to Ethiopia to see things for himself and we’ll be hearing from him in a moment. Pèlerin Magazine was also out there to cover Hugues Auffray’s visit and see how the camps are being organised. Here’s Jean-Marc Cara’s report, with commentary from Frédéric Astoux:

Commentary: This is Kelala camp, in the south of Wollo, the region worst affected by the drought. Here, thanks to money from the sale of a record made by French singers without borders, Médecins sans Frontières has been able to open a new health and food distribution centre. In Kelala, the farmers have gone hungry for ten years. Today their grain stores are empty, so they have come to this camp in search of food. Here, the most undernourished children will be given vitamins and almost 2000 calories a day – for as long as the supplies keep coming. The camp is totally dependent for these supplies on the big Polish air force helicopters that fly in from Addis Ababa every day. And it was on one of these helicopters that Hugues Auffray travelled to Kelala, as there are no decent roads to this remote location.
The second Médecins sans Frontières camp was built last June with money from the record sales. It is in Sekota, in the north of the region of Golo, in an area near Tigray, which is one of the regions involved in the conflict with central government. In this tent camp, set up on the outskirts of the town, more than 2000 people can also find food and care. The medical team gives them four to five meals a day. The basic diet is a sort of porridge made with rice, oil and milk. As in Kelala, the camp managers’ main worry is getting the food supplies through, as Sekota is also in a very isolated area. At the moment, most of the food and medicines comes in by plane. But this air link is very costly, almost 6000 francs per tonne. So with the money from the record, Médecins sans Frontières has also bought nine trucks that have just arrived in Dessié, the region’s capital. Thanks to these trucks, MSF will be able to make regular trips to and from the main humanitarian aid depot - although driving along these tracks - waterlogged by the first rain to fall in ten years – is no easy task.

Yves Thibord (MSF) : "It’s true that driving on these tracks is quite a feat. I’m no expert, but I’m beginning to get used to it; there are rivers to cross, fords, things like that, and then there are the security conditions. We’ve got soldiers to protect the convoy."

Commentary: But Médecins sans Frontières' work here started well before the record to raise funds for the drought victims was brought out. Here, in Korem, one of the organisation’s biggest camps, it is no longer hell on earth. At the beginning of the year, 150 people were dying every day. Today, there are only two or three. But the refugees in Korem are now preparing for another ordeal. The children may be smiling again, but their parents fear the onset of winter. So they have written a song and have taught it to Hugues Auffray: "Ferenji, coperta, foreigner, blankets to survive".

5 February 1985 - Antenne 2 - Report on famine and forced relocations in Ethiopia/ Reportage sur la famine et les déplacements forces en Ethiopie (French)

TV presenter: With a famine raging in Ethiopia, the country’s government, unable to provide subsistence for the population in several regions and unable to get international aid through to them, is carrying out population displacements that in most cases are only providing these starving people with a very temporary means of survival.
Report by Hervé Brusini and Alain Saingt:

Commentary: Washing the children of Korem is a long and difficult process. Meanwhile, at the other end of the camp, food is being distributed. There are 20,000 people here. Today, there will only be one meal. Ironically, in a country hit by drought, a storm has just delayed the process. Those people over there, like this woman, are wearing a bracelet, a simple bit of plastic that gives them the right to eat. The doctors distribute them to the weakest.
700 calories per ration. In France, we consume between 2000 and 2500. Those who don’t have bracelets scrabble for whatever is left over. Sometimes the camp authorities promise 15kg of grain and a blanket to anyone who agrees to leave. Sometimes they are not so subtle. Bracelets are removed and children suddenly become orphans.
Some parents are taken to an airport like this one. A soviet pilot explains his role:

Journalist: “What are you transporting in your plane?"

Pilot: "Different kinds of foodstuffs, large quantities of food, I don’t know what exactly. But usually I transport people and food."

Journalist: "People? It's for the population transfer? Where to they get these people?"

Pilot: "They get them in Tigray and Eritrea. Then they bring them to Addis-Ababa, and then they’re taken south to other regions."

Commentary: In Addis Ababa, there are thousands of displaced people in transit. The Ethiopian government wants to transfer 1.5 million people from the arid provinces of the north to the more hospitable regions in the south where the authorities have promised them 2 hectares of land. We have not been authorised to go there ourselves.
The international organisations have serious reservations about these displacements. Others see these transfers as a way of emptying the provinces of Eritrea and Tigray of their population - provinces that have been rebelling against Addis Ababa for twenty-five years:

Man: "It's not true. These people in the camps are dependent on French, German and British food aid to survive. They want to go to a region where there’s water, forests, food to eat, where the climate is good. And the government is helping them to go there."

Commentary: Another day begins in Korem. Some people are thinking about whether to go south. This woman expects nothing more from life: her two children died in the night.

24 October 1985 - France 3 - Colloque Liberté Sans Frontières Interview Dr. Claude Malhuret, MSFF General director and President of Liberté Sans Frontières/

TV presenter: Today third-worldism is in the dock. There is criticism on all sides of the mistakes, the resounding failures even, of a third-world policy that is now thirty years old. But the fact remains: the third world needs aid. To find other ways of providing it, a symposium was held in Paris yesterday, organised by the Liberté sans Frontières Foundation, a foundation created by the organisation Médecins sans Frontières.
Frédéric Astoux :

Commentary: "For the leaders of Liberté sans Frontières, the failure of current aid policies is due to an overly simplistic conception of what they call ‘third world doctrine”. This, they say, is partly because this doctrine, which condemns the pillaging of the third world's resources by the western world - hence the famous slogan " the rich man's cow is eating the poor man's bread“ - is a doctrine of blame. Yet nothing positive can be achieved on the basis of a guilty conscience, according to the founders of Liberté sans Frontières.
They further believe that these third-world theories have led to resounding political and economic failures, like in Tanzania, for example, where President Nyerere was supposed to have introduced an exemplary development model based on small-scale communal farming. In fact Tanzania’s economy was brought to its knees and the country is also believed to have committed numerous violations of human rights. To fight the dangers of totalitarianism and economic ineffectiveness, the members of Liberté sans Frontières are willing to risk being taken for the allies of those, like the United States, who are fighting revolutionary national liberation movements."

Claude Malhuret : "The danger is that the failure of these third world theories will make countries turn in on themselves. For twenty years we’ve been asking people to help and saying that development is on its way. And yet in Africa all there is to show for it is the biggest famine we seen in a very long time. So people could be forgiven for thinking, “We’ve been deceived, we’ve been lied to” and shut themselves off from the rest of the world. There is already evidence of this in the securitarian ideologies emerging at the moment. And this is exactly what we fear. And if we carry on as we are, this is exactly what will happen. However, and this the main reason for the foundation, we believe there is another way of going about things that is neither third-worldism nor cartierism. You know, Raymond Cartier used to say "La Corrèze avant le Zambèze" (which boils down to "Us before Them"), so neither third-worldism nor selfishness; the way forward is pragmatism. We think that when it comes to finding solutions for the problems of the third world it is high time we adopted a pragmatic approach, otherwise we’ll be playing in to the hands of, you say the Americans, but that’s not really the problem, but let’s say we’ll be playing into the hands of selfish interests and encouraging countries to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. And that’s what we want to avoid. And if anyone is any doubt, I think that Médecins sans Frontières’ actions across the world over the last twelve years should be enough to convince people that we are not on the side of the exploiters against generosity."

31 October 85 - Antenne 2 - Interview Dr. Claude Malhuret, MSFF General director on Ethiopian government hampering MSF in opening nutrition centers in Kelala

TV presenter: Claude Malhuret, you are the director of Médecins sans Frontières and you’ve been to Ethiopia on many occasions. But you’re currently faced with a very serious problem: you're being prevented from saving lives. Can you tell us how many lives are in danger today because of this stance?

Claude Malhuret : Well, if we take the example of Kelala, one of the four camps we’re working in, there are currently 8,000 children who are below 70% of their normal body weight. 70%. Can you picture that? 70% of the normal body weight of a child? 600 of these 8,000 children are below 60% of their normal body weight.
We’ve been working in Kelala since July. Over the last four months we've made numerous verbal and written requests to the Ethiopian government and the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission to open a nutrition centre for these children who are dying by the day. Four months, and we still haven’t got authorisation. So, we’ve begun protesting. After making direct protests to the Ethiopians without ever receiving a reply, we’ve been left with no choice but to make this unacceptable situation public.

Journalist: Some of you, some of the people who support your action (and they are numerous) are saying that people are being deported. That’s a strong word.

Claude Malhuret : That's the second problem. The first problem is feeding people in the regions where they are dying of hunger. And the second problem is that the solution the Ethiopian government has found to the first is to transfer – you use the word “deport”, I don’t know how it’s being done, so let’s say transfer- hundreds of thousands of people from zones in the north to zones in the south, several hundred kilometres away, at the height of the famine. Perhaps this transfer is justifiable. But what’s surprising about it is that, out of the dozens of reception camps set up for these people, humanitarian organisations only have access to two or three of them. So there are no witnesses and we’re extremely concerned about what might be happening.

Journalist: Can you tell our viewers about your discussions with the authorities, with your Ethiopia colleagues on site? Are the difficulties enormous? Are there people from Médecins sans Frontières who are being prevented from working?

- Claude Malhuret : Let me explain something about the situation. First of all, there is the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. Until recently, this commission was in charge of all the relief operations and I must say that things worked pretty well. And then, over the last few months, little by little, since the creation of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia, this party has gradually taken over. As a result, discussions at local level have become harder and harder because they’re no longer technical, between technicians, doctors and members of relief organisations; they’ve become political. So we we’ve been forced to move up a rung. To start with, our coordinator in Addis Ababa went to see the heads of the Commission and the Ethiopian authorities. Now our president, Doctor Brauman is denouncing the situation in Paris and, as we speak, he is meeting with the representative of the Relief Commission who is himself in Paris at the moment. They are both at the Ethiopian embassy trying to find a way to resolve the problem. And I really hope it will be resolved and that we’ll get what we've been asking for. As things stand, the situation is critical.

Journalist: And if your president and the Ethiopian representative can't settle the problem between them, is there any chance of the French government doing something, I mean a purely political intervention at an international level?

Claude Malhuret : Well, that would be a bit complicated for us. We are a non-governmental organisation, a private organisation, and we pride ourselves in our independence.

Journalist: But you also need government aid sometimes to carry out your humanitarian mission.

Claude Malhuret : Of course, but that wouldn’t be our first port of call. Today our first port of call – and we’ve already used it for what happened in Korem recently and what we’ve just seen on the screen – is the United Nations and its people in charge of coordinating humanitarian aid in Addis Ababa.

Journalist: Is what they are doing on site working?

Claude Malhuret : They have set up a commission of enquiry with members of humanitarian aid organisations and members of the United Nations, and the Ethiopian Relief Commission has been out to Korem to find out what is going on. So, so far we’ve at least managed to make sure there’s an enquiry into what’s happening.

Journalist: Yes, but an enquiry isn’t enough

Claude Malhuret : No, and it’s been four months now. So we absolutely must get an answer in the next few days. But most importantly, for us, the really essential thing is for the crisis to be resolved because, before pushing things any further, what we most need is to get on with caring for people. So, ratcheting up the crisis will mean that someday we’re likely to be expelled or someday we’ll withdraw because we can no longer condone what’s going on. We absolutely do not want this to happen, even if we have to admit defeat in some areas - but still, we can’t tolerate everything.

Journalist: So, Doctor Malhuret, and this will be my last question, Ethiopia is much in the news because of the singers... first of all because there’s a lot of aid out there, but also because of what the singers did. But Ethiopia is not the only country to be in the grip of famine and where you’re working alongside other organisations.

Claude Malhuret : No, of course Ethiopia is not the only one. To give you an idea, today, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, there’s not a single country in the Sahel strip where our teams are not working, because they have all been hit by famine: Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Journalist: Are the difficulties in these countries the same as in Ethiopia?

Claude Malhuret : There are different kinds of difficulties: logistical problems, supply problems. But there is no other situation of opposition comparable to what’s happening in Ethiopia. I repeat, these difficulties are real, and whether they are political or whether they are logistical and technical, we just hope they get resolved.

Journalist: Thank you very much for coming to talk to us on the lunchtime news about the situation in Ethiopia. And I believe that the Ethiopian representative with whom your president in currently in discussion will be our guest on the 8 o’clock news tonight to answer the criticisms being directed at him.

3 December 1985 - Antenne 2

TV presenter: The humanitarian aid organisation Médecins sand Frontières has been asked to leave Ethiopia. MSF arrived in the country to bring relief to famine victims nineteen months ago. The organisation rapidly became involved in a controversy with the government when the Ethiopian authorities began large-scale transfers of the population from the north of the country to the south. Today, MSF has been shown the door.
Patrice Pellet:

Commentary: "This child was on the brink of death. His only hope was to receive care from the French doctors. There are hundreds like him in Sekota camp, waiting for the doctors’ daily rounds."

Benoit Tulene, MSF: "We need to keep this child. We need to set him up with a nasogastric tube – that’s a tube that goes in through the nose and down to the stomach - and give him what we call the “premix” 5, 6, 7, or 8 times a day, day and night, to make sure he eats and that his body takes in everything we give him."

Commentary: "But all that is over now. Médecins sans Frontières, which was running four camps, has become undesirable. Yet less than a month ago, the Ethiopian number 2, on a visit to France, was optimistic. He made a solemn undertaking to ensure a new camp would be opened and that it would be run by Médecins sans Frontières."

Mr. Dawit (Ethiopian high commissioner): "Médecins sans Frontières is only one of 47 non-governmental organisations working in Ethiopia."

Journalist: "Are you willing to open new camps?"

Mr Dawit : "Of course, we have every intention of doing so." 

Journalist: "When?"

Mr Dawit : "In a day or two."

Commentary: "The Ethiopian government accuses Médecins sans Frontières of practicing more politics than medicine. In fact, the organisation is denouncing the conditions in which thousands of Ethiopians are being detained and then displaced from the arid north to the more hospitable south."

Brigitte Vasset: "They're taken away in buses and arrive in transit camps, as they are called, where even the United Nations people say that in these transit camps there is no water, no sanitation and there’s not even enough food aid for everybody. We are getting more and more information saying that during the transfer, and especially when they arrive at the reception sites, there’s nothing ready for them."

Commentary: "From now on Médecins sans Frontières will not be around to help the starving of Ethiopia, or to bear witness to events."

December 1985 – France 3 - Interview Dominique Le Guiller, MSF France

TV presenter: At the beginning of December ’85, nineteen months after first arriving, MSF has been shown the door. And that’s not all, Dominique Leguiller – thank you for being with us this evening. Today there was a serious incident: your equipment has been stolen and some of MSF’s personnel have been injured.

Dominique Leguiller (MSF): We knew the equipment would be stolen. Well, stolen is perhaps not the right word. Let’s say “requisitioned”. Seventeen of our vehicles have just passed into the hands of the government, as well as 8 trucks, including the truck donated to us by Ouest France last March. And then apparently, we found out a couple of hours ago that the people being forced to leave Korem were made to get out of our vehicles and into other vehicles which then came off the road. We have seven people seriously injured and two nurses who are probably being repatriated as we speak.

Journalist: So where are the injured now?

Dominique Leguiller: Apparently they’re in a Soviet hospital in Dessié.

Journalist: How are you going to repatriate them? How many MSF staff are still in Ethiopia?

Dominique Leguiller: Today there must be 7 people waiting to be repatriated. The whole Kelala team travelled to Addis today in a Polish helicopter, as our plane is not authorised to take off. The team from Sekota flew down in an American plane (the one you took in March). The other two teams were travelling down by road, in what used to be our vehicles until this morning and until this accident happened.

Journalist: But MSF is intending to stay on in two other regions held by the rebels, Tigray and Eritrea. But isn’t that risky?

Dominique Leguiller: There’s always a risk, of course, but it’s one we’ve mean measuring for a long time. It’s true that today we are completely on the wrong side of the authorities in Addis Ababa and our policy has been a bit all over the place.

Journalist: So, what should our reaction be?

Dominique Leguiller: We can't do anything more. Now it’s up to you to do what need doing. It's up to the other NGOs to assume their responsibilities. And the United Nations should also see what they can do. Today, we are denouncing something that is being presented as a rescue plan, but that is in fact a massive deportation of people. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people have died over recent weeks. If this goes on, 300,000, 400,000, hundreds of thousands more people will die.

Journalist: And is the situation still as serious now in December as it was back in March? There’s been some rain…

Dominique Leguiller: In Korem, no. The situation is improving there because this was just a transit camp. In Kelala and Sekota, we had set ourselves the task - our mission was to leave people in their own villages and take everything they needed in to them. Today we’re being prevented from doing that and the people in Kelala and Sekota are being deported to the South where we have no idea what’s going on.

Journalist: I was saying earlier that the situation could already be seen to deteriorating. Have things got even worse over the last few weeks?

Dominique Leguiller: About two months ago the deportations started up again, despite the fact that for a year nobody agreed to them. Yes, they’re getting worse.