BEIJING, Aug 20 (Xinhuanet) — China will start shipments of food aid to northeast African countries by the end of this month to ease famine caused by severe drought in the region, an official from the Ministry of Commerce said on Friday.
The shipments from Tianjin port will be scheduled on a weekly basis and last for a month, said Yu Yingfu, deputy director general of the Department of Aid to Foreign Countries at the ministry.
“Measures have been taken to ensure that the food aid could be transferred to Africa at the earliest possible time and we will continue following the situation in the drought-stricken areas and be ready for further aid,” Yu said.
The worst drought in 60 years has struck northeast Africa in recent months. Rain in some countries was less than 5 percent of normal precipitation. Food production has seriously dropped, causing widespread famine.
More than 12.4 million people in countries such as Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are affected, according to the United Nations, and tens of thousands of people have already died.
On July 27, the Chinese government announced emergency food aid of 90 million yuan ($14 million).
On Monday, Premier Wen Jiabao declared additional aid of 353 million yuan to northeast African countries while meeting with visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The World Food Program, the food aid branch of the UN, will use $16 million in cash from China’s aid to buy and distribute food in Somalia, where food transportation from China is very difficult because of the country’s geological features, he said.
The remaining amount includes 150 million yuan to Ethiopia, 130 million yuan to Kenya and 60 million yuan to Djibouti. The money will be mainly used to buy food such as rice, wheat, flour and oil in China’s market. Such foods are in urgent need in the famine-hit area, Yu said.
In recent years the Chinese government has stepped up efforts to cooperate with African countries in developing agricultural technologies.
From 2007 to 2009, China sent 104 senior agricultural experts to 33 countries across the continent to help them make agricultural development plans while providing consulting and training.
So far, China has built more than 40 agricultural cooperative projects in more than 30 African countries, trying to help them increase food production.
“This is the world’s largest-scale agricultural cooperation between one government and the African countries,” said Yang Lihua, director of the Center of Southern African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“China has made an important contribution in developing African countries’ agricultural industry,” she added.
However, China’s increasingly close ties with the continent have been criticized by some countries as “new colonization”. Some even blamed China’s “large-scale land purchases” as leading to drought and famine.
“It is absurd for some countries to try and blame China for the famine in the Horn of Africa,” Lu Shaye, director-general of the Department of African Affairs at Chinese Foreign Ministry, wrote in a comment in China Daily.
“China focuses on improving African countries’ food production capacity in its cooperation with Africa. China has not taken one single grain from Africa,” he said in the comment.
China will continue cooperating with Africa, Lu added.