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 The Danger of Famine in Ethiopia Today

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“In search of food and water, Osop Hassan walked for ten days with her three daughters and nine grandchildren to the outskirts of Gode in southeastern Ethiopia. Exhausted and weak with hunger, they set up flimsy huts beside those of other nomads who had also flocked to the area. Nearly 20,000 people from the farthest reaches of the arid plateau have migrated to Gode, hoping to find food and medicine for their sick children. Makeshift settlements line dirt roadways and occupy hillsides overlooking the town. Osop Hassan said that her family will remain there until the rains come"  (http://www.disasterrelief.org/Disasters/000629Gode2/).

These are images of Ethiopia’s current famine. Although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has already contributed one million dollars in aid, little other aid will come from this quarter, because the ICRC want to phase out aid supplies in order to make the people more self sufficient. In the worst areas of hunger now (the Godi and Ogadi regions of Ethiopia) only twenty-five percent of the population is currently affected by the drought, but weather experts warn if there are not rains by the end of June, the crops will fail, and the current famine will escalate into one the size of the great famine of 1984, which killed hundreds of thousands.

Why has this not been prevented? International sympathy provoked by the 1984 famine made the world determined to prevent such a thing re-occurring. Througout the last decade, efforts have been made to increase Ethiopia’s food production.  Imports have not been able to supplement this because of poorly developed private grain trade and high import duties. Because of this, food aid is too greatly depended on (hence the ICRC’s phase-out plan). But surely Ethiopia has food reserves to combat the threat of Famine?!

After the 1984 famine, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission was formed. It was to work in conjunction with a national Emergency Food Security Reserve, which today should hold 407,000 tons of grain, providing a bridging stock of three to four months food supply.  However, this is not the case. Instead, only 30,000 tons of grain are stored, only enough for a few weeks. Why has this happened?! How could the Ethiopian Government let their food supplies dwindle so low?!

Over the past two years, relief agencies have been borrowing grain from the Reserve to service their aid programs. These same agencies have failed to replenish the food stores within the specified time. In fact, some of these “food loans” have now been outstanding for more than a year.  The Ethiopian government has been calling for these reserves to be replenished, and they are only just now beginning to be, with the aid of the western media. Although the relief agencies can be blamed for the current lack of food stores, one must ask whether the strict controls on amounts of food distributed have been adhered to by the Ethiopians.

            The other major cause of the current food shortage, besides the relief agencies failure to replenish the stores, id the recent failure of the rains. In the impoverished lands of Sub-Saharan Africa, small farmers, and nomadic communities live on the edge, always close to disaster due to the droughts that occur almost yearly. However, despite this, widespread famine has been avoided. However, the above listed organizations have helped Ethiopia hold out against this threat. Now, with the impending failure of the food stores, it looks as though Ethiopia might join the other African communities, which have not been so lucky. The most recent crisis finds its main catalyst in the failure of the “belg” rains normally beginning in February.  Because of this, there is little hope of anything for people and animals to eat until late this year at the earliest.  This crisis, brought on by failures in the aid organizations, and problems with the rains, is rapidly growing. If something does not change soon, hundreds of thousands more may starve.