When the raine finally came to the dry nations of the Sahel area of West Africa after seven years of drought, they created new problems for weakened people.
When the raine finally came to the dry nations of the Sahel area of West Africa after seven years of drought, they created new problems for weakened people. Crops were damaged, possessions washed away by floods, and the transport of supplies made difficult in many regions.
But after the lean years are prospects for a better harvest this year. The summer rains have been considerably above average, and it seems that fears that some of the poorest nations on earth would cease to exist were not realised. That they have survived at all, is a little good news for delegates trying to ensure that the world's population will continue to be fed -- when the World Food Conference opens in Rome on Tuesday (5 November).
The 26 million people of the Sahel countries have survived the years of drought with apparently relatively few deaths from starvation.
By the end of year about one million of relief supplies will have been delivered to the area.
There are also signs that the world is being more far-sighted and effective in coping with natural disasters. Last year to big donor nations sent a fact-finding mission to the Sahel in September and October and there was the rushed chaotic situation with aid that could not be delivered, piling up in the ports.
This year supplies are being built up early. One donor nation is ready shipping in supplies for use in 1975. Mr. Trevor Page, the Chief Logistics Officer of the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Office for Sahelian Relief, believes that in the face of possible catastrophe the beginnings of a new discipline -- disaster planning -- could be emerging.
"Something very important happened at a meeting of donors in Rome on June 16. We told them that if they waited once again for the mission to report we should have exactly the same chaotic situation as last year. So we asked them to make an advance, before the mission reports, on the commitment they will finally make in the light of its findings. And they agreed", said Mr. Page.
Meanwhile relief agencies are using 'planes, trucks and camel trains to get food to millions of hungry Africans until the hoped-for harvest is in.
There are no reliable statistics available on how many people have died from starvation, or from malnutrition - caused diseases, or how many cattle, sheep and goats have perished.
But it is certain that for those who live in the path of the "advancing" Sahara Desert life may never be the same again.
The FAO estimates that 3.5 million cattle died in 1973 alone.
Hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees in their own lands, existing in squalid camps, almost totally dependent on food from abroad.
There have been accusations that one of the purposes of the famine relief was to destroy the nomadic way of life. The French newspaper Le Monde had even claimed that the Government of Mali attempted to exterminated the nomadic Tuareg of its sixth region by persuading them to enter refugee camps, making them dependent on aid, and then denying them supplies.
Whether it was the intention or not, it seems that the traditional nomad way of life is finished and eventual resettlement in more accessible places is now the only possible course.
Even in Ethiopia where the death rate was appalling things seem to be improving.
The Ethiopian Minister for Community Development, Mr. Mulato Debebe admitted: "It was the first time we had encountered a disaster of such magnitude. This being our first experience we were not ready for it and were caught by surprise".
The lucky ones managed to walk miles over mountains and trough scrubland to reach relief camps. The week didn't make it.
At Bati camp in Wollo province many of the men have already recovered and are out looking for work or preparing to tend their fields. The death rate has dropped from a peak of 20 a day to about two a month.
Children are being taught to read and write and women are being taught embroidery and sewing as part of a rehabilitation programme.
Many schemes are now in operation giving food for work, and the resettlement of Ethiopian nomads has begun.