Fasting for Food: Ethiopia's Years of Famine

Article excerpt

For the past two years, the drought in Eastern Africa has caused famine, and no nation has been hit harder than Ethiopia. An early warning system that alerted the Ethiopian government to the potential crisis, along with a promising response to appeals for aid and humanitarian assistance, has enabled relief agencies like the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to provide food to millions of starving people. Yet despite the success of the relief efforts and the rise in food production, there does not appear to be a rapid end to the famine in Ethiopia.

The last severe famine in Ethiopia was in 1984, when the country was being torn apart by civil war. At the time, the government's reluctance to take action and the slow response from the international community resulted in a humanitarian crisis affecting an estimated five to seven million people. In contrast, the current Ethiopian government has been active in seeking international aid and donors have been much more willing to provide it. According to a January 2004 press release by the WFP, crop yield has increased, livestock mortality has gone down, and the projected need for aid in 2004 has decreased. However, the underlying causes of the famine, which have prolonged and exacerbated the food shortage crisis, are deeply rooted and require much more time and money to be adequately addressed.

The most fundamental problem is the lack of economic development and infrastructure. Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world, and most of its population depends on subsistence farming. According to Sahlu Haile, representative of the US-based Packard Foundation which addresses population issues and family planning in Ethiopia, the rate of economic growth cannot keep up with the increasing population. The average per capita income has decreased since 1984, leaving the country poorer than ever. Lack of access to contraceptives, as well as religious and cultural resistance to family planning initiatives, has contributed to the population growth. Additionally, environmental problems, especially soil erosion and depletion, have reduced the agricultural capacity of the land. …

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