Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ethiopia today: Tears are STILL not enough

Lasting legacy of Ethiopia's famine

Mesele Adhena, centre, and his family at home in Korem
We did not work night and day before, but we do now.
Mesele Adhena, famine survivor

By Mike Woolridge
BBC world affairs correspondent, Ethiopia

It is now well over two decades since Mesele Adhena gave up all hope of being able to remain in his village of Bezeta, and came to this market town in the highlands of northern Ethiopia.

"Had we stayed," he says, "we would all have died."

As it was, three of his close relatives died in the famine of 1984, that had its epicentre in this region and at the time made the northern Ethiopian town of Korem a byword for starvation on an epic scale.

I was a member of the BBC team that eventually reached here and the town of Mekelle, that resides further north, in October 1984.

Ethiopia asks for urgent food aid

It was a time when the then government had denied journalists access in an attempt to keep the rapidly worsening impact of the famine hidden from their own people - and from the rest of the world.

Tens of thousands of people had already trekked to these government-held towns - that was in the midst of the protracted conflict with Tigrayan and Eritrean rebels - and many more were to follow....(BBC here)

Ethiopia map
(BBC here)

And yet, today I come across this headline:

Ethiopia demands urgent food for millions of starving people

A boy drinks water from a pond in Bule Duba village
in the outskirts of Moyale, in Ethiopia / Reuters / No Source

By correspondents in Addis Ababa

October 22, 2009 11:29pm

  • Six million facing starvation
  • 1 million died in famine 25 years ago
  • Country needs 159,000 tonnes of food

  • TWENTY-five years after Ethiopia's famine killed a million people and spurred a massive global aid effort, the government has appealed for help for more than six million facing starvation.

State Minister for Agriculture Mitiku Kassa said the country needed 159,000 tonnes of food aid worth $121 million between now and year's end for 6.2 million people.

He said nearly 80,000 children under five were suffering from acute malnutrition and that $US9 million ($9.68 million) was required for moderately malnourished children and women.

"Since... January, the country continues to face several humanitarian challenges in food and livelihood security, health, nutrition, and in water and sanitation," Mr Mitiku told donors.

In a report to mark the 25th anniversary since the famine, Oxfam called for a change of strategy towards the human suffering in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country after Nigeria.

It urged donors to focus on helping communities devise ways of preparing and dealing with disasters such as building dams to collect rain water to be used during dry seasons rather that sending emergency relief.

The long-term strategies receive less than one per cent of international aid, Oxfam said. [emphasis mine]

"Sending food aid does save lives, the dominance of this approach fails to offer long-term solutions which would break these cyclical and chronic crises," stated the report: Band Aids and Beyond. ...(here)

Here we are a generation on from the Band-Aid concerts that saw huge hearted donors from around the world respond to the terrible pictures of starving children, and yet, here we are again with Ethiopia demanding help. What is wrong with this picture?

Sam Kiley has a few thoughts on this topic:

October 23, 2009

Do starving Africans a favour. Don’t feed them

There is famine in Kenya and Ethiopia again. Sending food and emergency relief will make things worse in the long term

The Horn of Africa is in the grip of the worst drought for 47 years! Some 23 million people are threatened with starvation! When you see children on TV with distended bellies keening over their dying parents, it would be inhuman not to be moved to tears. But do them a favour. Sit on your hands.

The situation is ghastly to be sure. But, as Christmas approaches, the most intelligent response to this latest disaster is to quote Ebenezer Scrooge and cry “bah, humbug”.

African aid organisations have been in the grip of an hysterical number inflation game since the hideous images of the Ethiopian famine were brought to our screens 25 years ago today by the BBC’s Michael Buerk. For every year that has passed the scale of Africa’s problems seem to have grown...

There is a drought. Just as there is every ten years. This is the worst in a generation. But even if 23 million people do face starvation, please don’t reach for your cheque book. Foreign aid is the principal reason for Africa’s accumulated agony....

So, what to do? For an answer I turn to Birham Woldu, who survived the (man-made) 1984 famine in Ethiopia.

“Constantly shipping food from places like the US is costly, uneconomic, and can encourage dependency,” she writes in the Oxfam report. “We are a big country and when there is famine in one part of the country, there is plenty in another. So we need better infrastructure and communications to move food around to where it is needed. Above all we need education.”

If they want to badly enough, the Ethiopians can sort out their own roads. So that leaves education....

With education Africans can and will rid themselves of the incompetent and corrupt leaders that we have kept in power through foreign aid for decades. Educated Africans will bring an end to a dangerous cycle of humbug.

Sam Kiley is a former Africa bureau chief of The Times (read the rest here)

There is a saying that goes something like: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he can feed his family forever. Seems to me, if we really mean to help countries like Ethiopia towards self-sustainability, we need to harness all our expertise, and their own resources, so they can feed themselves forever.

First with the head, then with the heart.

No comments: