TIANJIN - China sent 1,440 tons of wheat from its Tianjin Port to Ethiopia on Friday, the first batch of aid goods the country has supplied to relieve the current drought in the Horn of Africa region.
The region, which includes Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and four other countries, is seeing its worst drought in 60 years. The dry conditions have given rise to a severe famine and left about 12.5 million people in need of assistance.
"The wheat will be in the hands of Ethiopian people at the end of this month and more aid will also be sent later this month," said Ren Nuo, an official with the Ministry of Commerce's department of aid to foreign countries.
On Saturday, 500 tons of rice will be sent from Shanghai to Kenya, where it is to arrive by the end of September. And on Sept 13, 7,000 boxes of cooking oil and 500 tons of flour will go to Djibouti, according to Yang Hong, vice-president of China Agri-Industries Holdings, which is providing the relief goods.
The goods, part of the $70 million in aid China plans to give to African countries stricken by the current drought, were sent after China asked the governments of those places in July about their needs.
"It took just two weeks for the ministry to send the wheat after it had learned in mid-August just what goods were needed by the Ethiopian government," Ren said. "A special effort is also being made to ensure the goods are transported safely and that they are of a high quality."
Many blamed the drought in the Horn of Africa region on bad weather. But an article appearing in the German newspaper Frankfurter Randschau suggested that some observers see other causes.
Comments printed from an interview with Guenter Nooke, an Africa policy coordinator for Germany, seemed to show that Nooke connected the famine to China's purchases of land in Africa, an interpretation Nooke has since denied he intended to make.
Shen Danyang, a spokesman for the ministry, said any attempt to blame China's land purchases is groundless.
"China is investing in some agricultural projects in Africa," he said at a news conference on Aug 24. "China's investment is meant to improve African agriculture through the use of advanced technologies and competent experts. But we import no cereal grains from Africa."
Ren also said "China has made contributions to the development of African agriculture."
China gave $16 million to the United Nations World Food Programme at the end of August. The money was used to buy wheat and corn from European markets and send those grains to Somalia, the country that is worst hit by the famine.
Somalis have also been suffering from the worst food shortage in African history. About 3.6 million people in the country, nearly half of the population, are at risk of starving. More than half of all Somali children are malnourished, and six infants die from malnutrition every day.
The ministry promised to monitor the famine closely and to give more aid in the future to the stricken countries, officials said.
The ministry is also helping to drill wells in Djibouti to ensure residents there have drinking water and is looking at sending shipments of emergency medicine.