In case of Ethiopia after the 1980s Bob Guldof’s detoured Band Aid experience all the relief must be given directly to the people. One must not even address the rebels since they will take the starving population as a hostage as a means to win the war. When it comes to the government who is the main cause of the famine itself will use food to punish those who are not loyal or voting for him. In either case we have learned from the last 40 years experience that Aid must be directly delivered to the population suffering. We think also this the only methodology to be applied as a principle in any relief distributions in any country like Ethiopia known as mainstay of government instigated famine and conflict.
The actual government in Ethiopia made its way to power by robbing relief and Aid from the starving population and buying guns instead. Today in power continues to benefit from the international aid to use it to maintain itself in power and dump the money in the international fiscal paradises across the pacific. Still today those part of the population who are not the same ethnic group as the group in power or others who are not pro government groups will starve to death.
When a natural disaster hits a country a like Chile and Haiti the national infrastructure is also damaged and most of the avenues of delivery are closed. In the last case the international organizations must directly deliver to the people first and then help the government re habilitate itself but not on the back of the starving population. We must not forget that the government was suppose to work for the people a not the vice versa.
Should you consider your feelings about a country’s government when deciding to donate to disaster relief?
A decision to donate towards disaster relief will be determined by a number of factors, but support or otherwise for the government of the country affected, should not be one of them.
Modern worldwide news coverage can bring details of disasters right to the heart of our living rooms. Reporters, photographers and their producers are adept at being in the right place at the right time, sometimes regardless of their own personal safety, and through their skill and courage we are made aware of the personal tragedies which may unfold after a disaster.
The quality and empathy shown in such reporting can be a decisive first element in a decision to donate. Michael Buerk’s report for the BBC in 1984, from famine torn Ethiopia, led to a sudden awareness of the horrors unfolding and a tremendous outpouring of generosity from ordinary people.
We see the needs of those affected – housing, food, water, medical supplies, clothing, warmth, etc., etc. and we feel unable, in all conscience, to not donate towards their relief.
But do we pause to consider the government of the country affected? We may, but this should not affect our decision. It will not be the government which has caused the problem, and it may be doing all it can in the most difficult of circumstances.
Were we to consider that we do not support the government personally, perhaps because it is too extreme, or because it has a reputation for corruption, should this affect our decision to donate? I hope not. The people most affected by a tragedy will need help whatever their government does or does not do, and the less effective the government is, the more those people need our help.
Many examples come to mind. The Haitian government was in no position, for a variety of reasons, to offer organised assistance following the earthquake there. Does that mean we should not give? After the Armenian earthquake in the early 90s, people sat around waiting to be told what to do, the communist regime of several generations having removed their ability to decide for themselves. Does that mean we should not have given?
And, closer to home, the American government’s failure to act quickly and decisively when New Orleans needed so much help appalled people throughout the world. But should this have affected whether people donated or not? Again, I hope not.
The Hazards Of Doing Good
From Live Aid in the mid-1980s to today, Western attempts to help famine-plagued Ethiopia have had little effect. Peter Gill explains why in “Famine and Foreigners.” William Easterly reviews.
If it were possible to sum up in one sentence Ethiopia’s struggles with famine over the past quarter-century, I’d suggest this: It’s not the rains, it’s the rulers. As Peter Gill makes clear in “Famines and Foreigners,” his well-turned account of the country’s miseries since the 1984-85 famine and the Live Aid concert meant to relieve it, drought has not been as devastating to Ethiopians as their own autocratic governments.
Ethiopia is a classic example of Amartya Sen’s dictum that famines don’t occur in democracies, only under tyrannies. The “foreigners” in Mr. Gill’s story either didn’t know about this sad fact of life or chose to ignore it. In any case, the celebrities and humanitarians who rushed to the aid of starving Ethiopians in the mid-1980s unwittingly supported the very people most responsible for those grim days.
he Derg, the brutal Marxist junta running Ethiopia at the time, contributed to the 1984 famine by forcing farmers to sell crops to the state at low prices. Many farmers instead consumed much of what they grew. The tradition of Ethiopians in areas with surplus food selling it to those in famine-stricken areas was thus disrupted.
The Derg, who had come to power in the mid-1970s after a famine discredited Emperor Haile Selassie, further exacerbated the country’s hunger problems with a military campaign—against rebels from the Tigrayan region in the north—that deliberately targeted food production and trade. A government official said at the time: “Food is a major element in our strategy against the secessionists.”
And then the Derg forced people to resettle in the southern lowlands from the parched northern highlands, partly in an effort to undermine the recruiting efforts of the Tigrayan rebels. One instrument of coercion: the relief supplies sent by well-meaning foreigners. The Derg denied food and medicine to anyone who refused to resettle. The refugees arriving in the lowlands found unfamiliar diseases and unsanitary conditions. The veteran aid writer Alex de Waal, assessing this era in Ethiopia, concluded: “Resettlement certainly killed people at a faster rate than the famine.” The aid also allowed the government to reduce its own spending on the domestic emergency and instead buy imported arms, which amounted to billions of dollars at the height of the famine. It took until 1991 for the guerrilla alliance to finally oust the regime.
Fast-forward to the present: Although Stalinist Marxism is done, not much else has changed. The former Tigrayan rebels, led by Meles Zenawi, now rule Ethiopia. The country’s agriculture remains in what Mr. Gill calls “a state of almost permanent crisis.” A famine in the south in 2000 escaped much international notice while the government was busy prosecuting a war against neighboring Eritrea. In 2008, the Ethiopian army conducted a counterinsurgency campaign in the south, attempting to put down a rebellion in its Somali region amid a food crisis there. Human Rights Watch accused Mr. Meles’s forces of “demonstration killings,” torture, torching villages—in sum, “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Mr. Gill captures the brutality of the Meles regime, but he does not say as much as he might about the government’s failure to address Ethiopia’s perpetual food shortages. He supportively describes Mr. Meles’s decision to continue the Derg’s policy of government ownership of all land. One searches in vain for a suggestion that letting farmers own their land might be a good idea, giving them incentives to prevent erosion and invest in soil fertility.
Mr. Meles’s authoritarian stripes make life awkward for Westerners who want to aid Ethiopians. Mr. Gill quotes Mr. Meles’s writings on the “developmental state,” which conveniently for the ruler “will have to be undemocratic in order to stay in power long enough to carry out successful development.” Elections in 2005 were almost certainly rigged, and critics were jailed in the aftermath. Public protests were suppressed, with hundreds killed. Mr. Gill speaks to a source “surprisingly close to government” who tells him that security forces opened fire “deliberately to show who was in charge.”
The timing could not have been worse. In 2005, Mr. Meles was also serving on British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission on Africa, a high-profile panel whose report called for increased aid to Africa. The G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July 2005 was focused on Africa—particularly in response to the Blair commission’s report. The Live 8 concerts held at that time were an homage to the Live Aid concert two decades earlier and aimed at mobilizing public pressure for the G8 to indeed increase African aid.
Yet few reporters covering the G8 summit, and surely few members of the Live 8 concert audiences around the world, seemed to grasp the key role played by Mr. Meles, an autocrat who had just rigged an election, killed demonstrators and imprisoned opponents. It was the political cluelessness of Live Aid all over again.
In recent years donors have steered aid away from Ethiopia’s central government and toward local governments. Such efforts have had little effect, though, since the former controls the latter. If anything, the Meles regime has become harsher still. In “Famines and Foreigners,” Mr. Gill shows us the nexus of politics and aid at the core of Ethiopia’s famines. Surely little good can come of Westerners offering their help to Ethiopia in ignorance of the cruel way the country is governed.
Mr. Easterly, a professor of economics at New York University, is the author of “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.”
In 2010, WFP plans to help more than 9 million people in Ethiopia. Copyright: WFP/Judith Schuler
Threats to Food Security
• Rainfall patterns (droughts and floods)
• Land degradation (deforestation and soil erosion)
• Population density
• Infrastructure development
• Insecurity and conflict
• Fall in world prices of cash crops
An ancient land with roots stretching back thousands of years, Ethiopia is in many ways culturally, linguistically and historically distinct from much of the rest of Africa. But like many African nations, agriculture is the foundation of the Ethiopian economy. The country’s wellbeing is dependent on uncontrollable factors including rain, climate change and the global market. Droughts in 2008 and 2009 continue to affect the food security situation of 5.2 million inhabitants of Africa’s second most populous country. Certain areas are currently facing droughts and flooding.
Ethiopia has recently made huge gains in primary school enrollment, rural road investment, health extension system expansion and food security programmes. Despite these achievements, Ethiopia remains highly vulnerable to food crises, with food insecurity linked to rainfall patterns, land degradation, population density and infrastructure development. Of Ethiopia’s 79 million inhabitants, about 28 million, or 35 percent of the population, live below the poverty line. Eighty percent of the population lives in rural areas with limited access to infrastructure, making it difficult for food, healthcare and other resources to reach the area. Ethiopia is a least developed country ranked 171 out of 182 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index for 2009.
In 2010, WFP will assist almost ten million people in every region of Ethiopia. The Government of Ethiopia continues to address food insecurity through its Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP). All WFP activities in Ethiopia contribute to PASDEP.
The main intervention in 2010 provides emergency food assistance to up to 4.7 million people highly affected by temporary food insecurity. WFP is also a major partner in Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), which reaches 7.5 million rural dwellers with much-needed support while generating community assets. Launched in 2005, the programme provides transfers of food or cash, or a combination of both, to help bridge food deficit periods and to ensure people do not sell their assets in order to meet their basic food needs.
In addition, WFP also provides food assistance to Somali, Eritrean and Sudanese refugees, people affected by HIV/AIDS, and pregnant and nursing mothers and children suffering from malnutrition. Many pilot projects, such as the Risk Insurance project, are launched in Ethiopia.
WFP Ethiopia’s Development Programme consists of two core components: School Meals and MERET (Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transition), a programme supporting sustainable land and water management and increased productivity in food-insecure communities. MERET was recognized at the Copenhagen Climate Conference at the end of 2009 as one of the ways to combat climate change. It has great potential for countries that are unable to withstand climate shocks and proves how community-based land and water management can halt serious environmental deterioration.
The School Meals component and the Children in Local Development (CHILD) initiative focus on supporting formal education and on enhancing child-friendly schools by developing schools into community resource centers that promote good nutrition and environmental awareness.
WFP is working to connect farmers in Ethiopia to markets through the Purchase for Progress initiative.
© 2010, Prof. Muse Tegegne. All rights reserved.