Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Appeals for Aid to Drought-Stricken
Families in Ethiopian Christmas Message
By Anthony Mitchell
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, January 7, 2003 (AP) -- The head of
25-million-strong Orthodox Church called on the nation in his
Christmas message Tuesday to help drought-stricken families facing
Patriarch Abune Paulos urged Ethiopians, who celebrate Christmas on
Jan. 7, to "stretch their helping hands" to the millions hit by the
drought. "It is the duty of Christians to provide assistance and
compassion to others who are in dire need of help," the patriarch
said in a sermon. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said that more
11 million Ethiopians could face starvation in the coming months due
to one of the worst droughts in the country's history.
A further 3 million people are at serious risk, according to the
governments emergency arm, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness
Commission. When calling on international donors for money and food
aid, Meles has compared the present situation to the 1984-85 drought
and famine in which 1 million people are estimated to have died.
But that famine occurred under the Derg, a Marxist military regime
that tried to ignore the effects of the drought, then when food aid
began to arrive, used it as a political tool, mainly against rebels,
led by Meles, who took power in May 1991.
Religious leaders from other denominations backed the patriarch's
call for aid to those who are suffering the failure of both the
country's annual rains. President Girma Giorgis-Wolde has donated a
month's salary to combat the food shortage, and civil servants and
Ethiopians living abroad have also contributed to the effort.
Officials have estimated that US$700 million are needed to buy
emergency food. Ethiopia is one of the world's 10 poorest countries
and is regularly beset by serious food shortages. The government
estimates that each year some 4 million people need food aid to
The country is still trying to overcome the effects of a 2 1/2-year
border war with Eritrea which ended in December 2000 and cost each
side an estimated US$1 million a day.
Every year the 67-year-old patriarch, who wields massive power in
this deeply religious country, gives a sermon marking holy days in
the religious calendar. Last year he warned of the dangers of
HIV/AIDS and called on Christians in the country to fight the stigma
associated with the disease.
But the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is wary of urging the widespread
use of condoms, which go against its thousands-year-old religious
teachings. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church won autonomy from the
Church in 1950 and has more than 36 million followers worldwide.