Starvation Looms




By: David Caldes, Rachel Caldes, and Daniella Chusyd




Ethiopia suffered through a famine in 1984 and the effects were fatal.  This previous famine killed nearly one million people and affected about 7.9 million people.  Now Ethiopia is facing another famine that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says could affect three times the number affected in the last famine.  Ethiopia suffers from frequent and prolonged droughts, and because they do not have an adequate system to collect and save water during the dry fall season, they end up not having any water.  This year, the short rains which start in February, and the long rains that start in June, did not supply sufficient amounts of water to aid Ethiopia.  Usually though, Ethiopia needs to rely on some amount of food aid because it does not produce enough.  Ethiopia is on the brink of malnutrition and starvation as continued drought has eliminated crops and killed livestock.  If relief assistance is not delivered in time, Ethiopia faces conditions similar to the famine of 1984-85.  There are many efforts being taken to aid Ethiopia in this time of need, they will be discussed along with causes for the famine, the effects it is having on the country and its people, and a look towards the future to see if there is a solution in sight.



*      Why is there a famine in Ethiopia?

*      There is a drought in Ethiopia because of lack of rainfall in the short rainy season and a long season that began late and saw little precipitation.  Ethiopia suffers from cyclical droughts which have been increasing. The time between these droughts is small, leaving Ethiopia with little time to recover from the previous one.  While the drought is hitting many parts of Ethiopia, it is taking a massive toll of the country’s main harvest – the Meher.  About 40 percent of the country’s maize and sorghum comes from the Meher harvest.  Due to drought and erratic rainfall, maize and sorghum crops have failed for many farmers.  These crops are the staple foods for most rural people.  The drought has also caused numerous livestock deaths, with remaining animals only just surviving.  Ethiopia’s crop production for the period of 2002 and 2003 is estimated to be between 9.56 and 10.33 million which means a 15 and 8 percent decrease from the previous four years respectively. 


*      Rainfall in large parts of Ethiopia shows a high level of variability from year to year.




With this high uncertainty of rainfall it makes it hard for farmers to know the amount and when the rainfalls    

will come.  This hinders their abilities to produce food.  Ethiopia is a country of almost 67 million people of which 85 percent is directly engaged in agricultural production.  Yet, farmers of Ethiopia have been unable to feed themselves and the urban population adequately.  This situation is not helped with the population of Ethiopia increasing fast and probably doubling in a little over two decades.


*      The starvation of the people of Ethiopia is mainly because of the droughts, but other factors may be contributing to it.  Other factors behind the famine are the fighting with Eritrea and the “free markets.”  The political leadership has been so alienated from the common people.  Governments are using the generosity of the international community to boost their armies and strengthen their grip on their impoverished populations.  They are neglecting the basic needs of their populations when they alienate themselves and international aid agencies are taking notices and intervening to avert mass deaths and social upheavals.  A real tragedy is that the governments, past and present, of Ethiopia have banked on the starvation and humiliation of the population for whom they should care for.  It is particularly upsetting to see the present government using the long-term strategic policy options and vouch for international alms as a solution to a structural problem.  These problems with the government only impede the efforts of the international community to aid the people of Ethiopia in their time of crisis and tragedy and thus adding to the factors for the cause of the famine.



*      Crisis in Ethiopia


*      More than 8 million people in Ethiopia are land locked into “famine zones.”  Ethiopia is a landlocked country that is heavily dependent on agriculture.  These droughts have the potential to cripple the country’s already shaky economy; nearly a third of the more than 65 million people living in Ethiopia live on less than $1 per day.  “Urban wages have collapsed and unemployed seasonal farm workers and landless peasants have been driven into abysmal poverty.” (The Ecologist, 2002)





Landlocked Ethiopia











*      An estimated 10 to 14 million Ethiopians will be severely affected by inadequate rainfall.  Catholic Relief Services requested more than 300,000 metric tons of food for distribution starting in November 2002 through July 2003 in conjunction with other Ethiopian relief organizations.  “The facts speak for themselves,” Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said.  “The disaster we had in 1984-1984, the number involved roughly a third to one half of the number of people involved now.  So if that was a nightmare, this will be too ghastly to contemplate.”  (BBC Radio, 2002) 



*       The droughts and the famine are not just affecting the people it is affecting the ecosystem, as well.  With so many drought-stricken people in landlocked areas they are now migrating to other parts of the country.  Thousands have migrated into one of Ethiopia’s most important national parks, threatening its ecosystem.  The large numbers of people entering the Bale Mountains National Park could severely accelerate the deforestation of the area.  The park, in southern Ethiopia, is one of the most precious in the country, being home to the Ethiopian wolf – one of the rarest animals in the world, with only 500 still in existence.  The UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia fears that people’s presence in Bale National Park will intensify destruction of the forest in the park, and increase risks to communicable disease.


*       The UN food agency said malnutrition rates have reached alarming levels in some parts of the country.  In the northeastern regional sate of Afar malnutrition rates are around 30 percent.  According to Ethiopian government’s emergency group, 15 percent is seen as critical.


*       The most vulnerable people being affected by the droughts and famine are children and the elderly who have already started dying from the food shortages.  An eight year old boy, Fayo, said "I know I am going to die and so are my brothers and sisters because we are all so hungry."  When asked if he really believed it he added, "yes." and then added, "I would prefer to die rather than keeping waiting for food.  I prefer to die."




*      A cry for help


*      Many organizations are helping in support of Ethiopia and problem with famine.  Catholic Relief Services is supporting efforts in Washington to encourage Congress and the Bush Administration to continue to fund emergency relief efforts in the Horn of Africa.  The agency has also requested increased funding for humanitarian and development aid in 2003 so that it can complement direct food assistance in Ethiopia with longer-term agricultural support programs.


*      The UN World Food Programme launched an urgent appeal to provide emergency relief food to countries in the Horn of Africa, where there are more than 12 million people threatened with starvation over the next months.

“We are facing a serious humanitarian catastrophe.  At least 10 million people will need food aid just in Ethiopia.  But if this month’s rains stop early, up to 14 million people there will require urgent assistance,” said WFP’s Executive Director, James T. Morris.  “These figures are large and dramatic and the international community should take notice.  If donors respond quickly, we can help avoid an immense human tragedy there.  Unless we come to grips with this problem very soon, we face the real possibility of witnessing a devastating wave of human suffering and death as early as next year.”

They are trying to find creative solutions to the insufficient funding of humanitarian operations.  WFP says it will require the “determined focus and imagination of governments as well as the wholehearted support of ordinary citizens who must decide what kind of societies they want to live in.”

Link to the World Food Programme website:


*      With appeals being made to the international community by organizations like WFP and CRS they are being overshadowed by famine in southern Africa.  The world needs to help all of Africa and distribute their aid throughout and not focus on one region or another.  Many millions will die because of these problems throughout Ethiopia and the rest of Africa and neglect because of priority to one country over another should not be the reason for these fatalities.


*      At the Children’s Hunger Relief Fund you can browse the site and also make contributions towards their efforts.  You can buy a child lunch with a donation of only 15 cents.  You can also send “Luv” boxes to children throughout Africa.


*      At is a site for the group Children International.  They are a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children in dire poverty.



*      A start on the long journey to a solution


*      Relief funds and food supplies have been sent to Ethiopia.  An arrival at Djibouti Port of a ship carrying 42,000 tons of relief food donated to WFP by the United States Government.  The food will help feed millions of people facing increasing hunger throughout drought-stricken Ethiopia.  This latest shipment was worth $15 million.  This brings the total U.S. contribution to WFP’s emergency operation in Ethiopia this year to $100 million.  This includes a 100,000 ton contribution that should arrive in December.

“We have been monitoring the situation in Ethiopia with increasing concern,” said Tom Park, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Director.  “Recent emergency donations by the United States and other donors will allow Ethiopia to release food stocks from its emergency reserves with the knowledge that they will be replenished.  However, more food aid is needed if a catastrophe is to be averted.”


*      Ethiopia and Eritrea are long time foes, but Eritrea saw their chance to help a country in dire need and offered the use of their two Red Sea ports, Masawa and Assab, to Ethiopia for shipments of food.  Ethiopia denied the offer saying that they have sufficient access to ports from Djibouti and Somalia.  They said their main issue isn’t finding ports but lack of food being brought into these ports.


Eritrean Government realized that they had obligations to humanitarian efforts and that the people of Ethiopia should not be punished because of their government.


*      The US funded a new early warning system which the Ethiopian government used this past year.  It helps the country be more alert to impending shortfalls.  They have been trying to improve the rural transportation and roads that connect the rural communities to the main roadway systems which will help with the delivery of food.  In northern Ethiopia projects to conserve soil and not overgrazing their livestock has helped in increased food production and they also make better us of available water.

Some feel that the government is corrupt and is using the money to help build up their army because of the disorder war with Eritrea.  However, the government claims these accusations are false, that all the aid goes to the famine, and that western organizations take close watch over them anyhow.  The fact of the matter is, the government realized early and took advantage of the new system, but because of the problems in southern Africa it was a bit overlooked, and then since the rains didn't come the situation became worse.


*      With the efforts of organizations and the relief supplies being provided by the U.S. a crisis is hopefully being averted.  But these efforts will not be enough.  There is desperate need for more food to be supplied to the people of Ethiopia so that their food supply will not run out and be able to last them through this famine that is affecting millions.  The international community needs to realize their obligations to their fellow countries and help out with humanitarian efforts.  Not only do governments and organizations need to help with this famine crisis in Ethiopia, but we as citizens of these nations need to show our support in any way that we can.  Sending donations through organizations like the ones mentioned earlier and also keeping up with the escalating situation and seeing what other efforts we can participate in.  Ethiopia has a disastrous drought which is leading to serious famine throughout the country, but with the continuing support of WFP, CRS, other organizations and help from countries such as the U.S., hopefully Ethiopia can get through this trying time in their nation.






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