about the Ethiopian Famine
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Ravaged by Famine, Ethiopia Finally Gets Help From the Nile
November 26, 2003
For Generations, Politics Kept Tributaries
Flowing By, Bringing Their Bounty to Egypt
By ROGER THUROW
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
MERAWI, Ethiopia -- A barefoot farmer named Takele Tarekegn emerged from his
cornfields one day this summer and encountered engineers and bankers
stumbling through the dense bush in front of his mud-brick shack.
The interlopers, wielding compasses and blueprints, were blazing a trail to
the nearby Koga River. They were also charting what could be a historic turn
in the turbulent water politics of the Nile River, which have kept millions
of Ethiopians on the ragged edge of starvation.
A small dam is to be built on the Koga, Mr. Tarekegn's visitors told him,
and a network of canals, too -- the first irrigation project for peasant
farmers ever constructed in the area. "If we can finally use our water,
we'll be able to feed our families all year long," says the 46-year-old
farmer. "I have been waiting for this all my life."
For now, he watches water that could be his salvation rush away to another
man's fields in another country.
Just a half-hour walk from Mr. Tarekegn's parched two acres of corn and
wheat, which are dying of thirst after the rains stopped too early this
year, the Koga picks up speed. It is one of the source rivers of the mighty
Blue Nile, which tumbles through deep gorges as it carves a 560-mile arc
through Ethiopia before entering Sudan. There, the Blue Nile merges with the
White Nile to form the Nile, which surges into Egypt.
In all, rivers originating in Ethiopia's highlands contribute 85% of the
Nile water flowing through Egypt -- where a vast web of dams and canals
first commissioned by the Pharaohs turn millions of desert acres into
fertile fields. But in Ethiopia, regularly stalked by drought and famine,
precious few drops of the Blue Nile and its tributaries are dammed to
Modern geopolitics have favored Egypt because of its strategic position in
the Middle East. Major international lenders and development agencies have
been loath to support anything upstream on the Nile that might disrupt the
vital flow of water to Egypt and trigger instability there. Ethiopia,
meanwhile, lacked funds to develop its own broad irrigation network. The
result is one of Africa's cruelest ironies: the land that feeds the Nile is
unable to feed itself.
Now the hunger in Ethiopia has become so chronic and widespread that the
politics of the Nile are starting to flow in Ethiopia's direction.
International lenders and donors fear that the number of hungry Ethiopians
is increasing beyond the world's ability to feed them. In the past year,
about 13 million Ethiopians have been saved by 1.7 million tons of food aid,
with more than $500 million of food coming from the U.S. alone. Urgent
meetings among major donors this summer charted a shift away from reliance
on emergency aid in favor of long-term investments, including irrigation and
"There is no precedent for a country developing without harnessing its
rivers and utilizing its water resources," says David Grey, the World
senior water adviser.
The Nile basin, home to about 160 million people in 10 African countries,
has some of the world's worst poverty, hunger and land degradation. With its
population expected to nearly double in 25 years, the scramble for water
will be more intense. The area has long been one of the most contentious in
Africa, convulsing with a series of wars and acts of terrorism.
Globally, hunger is on the rise. Tuesday, a report by the United Nations
food agency said hunger around the world is increasing, after falling
steadily during the first half of the 1990s. More than 840 million people
are undernourished, most of them in Africa and Asia, the report said, and
the number of undernourished people in the developing world is climbing at a
rate of almost 5 million a year.
Ethiopia, an ancient land of 67 million people, has been particularly
miserable. A war with Eritrea that ended in 2000 sapped money needed for
economic development, leaving the country with an estimated per capita
annual income of about $100, one of the lowest in the world. Life expectancy
is 42 years, and nearly half the children under five are malnourished.
Since the epic famine of 1984, when nearly one million people died, Ethiopia
has been hit by a series of droughts and food shortages with each one
threatening more people. Families forced to sell off their cattle and other
possessions to survive one drought are too weak to cope when the next one
strikes. With the population growing more than 2% a year, the pressure to
squeeze every bit of life out of the land has depleted the soil and left
parts of the country looking like a barren moonscape. Even in a good harvest
year, about five million Ethiopians still need to be fed by food aid,
according to international aid agencies working in the country.
A more equitable sharing of the Nile, many believe, will help relieve such
misery and tension in the region. The World Bank and the U.N. are
spearheading the Nile Basin Initiative, started in the late 1990s to foster
cooperation among the Nile countries. But the effort faces many obstacles,
including centuries-old suspicions among those who depend on the Nile.
"This river has caused a hostile environment since the creation of
says Belay Ejigu, Ethiopia's agriculture minister.
Egypt has historically opposed efforts that could impede the flow of the
Nile to its borders. But now Cairo sees the results of that stance may be
working against Egypt, as an ever-more desperate Ethiopia has increased
pressure to use the Blue Nile basin waters. Rather than just watch that
happen, Egypt wants to have a hand in those projects, even offering to
provide expertise and investment. Egyptians see some potential economic
upside, including the possibility of joint hydroelectric ventures.
The Koga River project is being cast as a "confidence builder" to show
upstream uses don't necessarily hurt downstream populations. Ethiopian
engineers calculate the Koga irrigation would use less than one-tenth of 1%
of the Nile flow reaching the Ethiopia-Sudan border.
Under the plan, some 15,000 acres will be irrigated, providing supplemental
water for crops during the erratic rainy season and a steady supply of water
for a previously unthinkable second crop during the long dry season. This
year, for instance, with the annual rain starting late and stopping early,
Mr. Tarekegn fears his harvest will shrink by half. "It's the difference
between eating well or just getting by," he says. "Or worse."
When the African Development Bank notified the Egyptians it was considering
financing the $50 million Koga project, Cairo gave its support. "They are
really suffering in Ethiopia," says Abdel Fattah Metawie, the chairman of
the Nile water sector in Egypt's Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.
Without development in the Blue Nile basin, he says, "you have to expect a
crisis in the area."
For more than 4,000 miles, the Nile snakes through jungles, slashes through
gorges and floats through deserts, offering some of the most graceful sights
in Africa. Its waters have been deified as a God and bottled as a holy
But they have also been defiled by centuries of jealousy, covetousness and
fear. From the time the Pharaohs built the pyramids along the Nile and first
harnessed the river for irrigation, Egyptians have looked upon the Nile
waters as their own. In the colonial era, European rulers engineered
treaties that divvied up use of the lower Nile between Egypt and Sudan, to
the exclusion of Ethiopia, which was never fully colonized.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union helped Egypt build the vast Aswan High
Dam to better manage the flow of the Nile. After Egypt shifted to the
Western camp, it was showered with hundreds of millions of dollars from the
U.S. and other allied countries to rehabilitate and manage its canal
network. Ethiopia, which shifted its alliance from West to East, got mainly
military equipment and food aid.
The disparity of fortunes is stark. Egypt has eight million acres of land
irrigated by thousands of miles of Nile canals, while Ethiopia has less than
500,000 acres of irrigated land. Although Ethiopia's highlands boast vast
stretches of arable land, they must rely on the erratic rains for, at best,
one crop each year. Because of its irrigation supply, Egyptian farmers can
annually produce two or three harvest seasons.
Egypt exports power. Ethiopia produces less than 500 megawatts from a few
hydropower dams, providing electricity to less than 10% of the population.
Ethiopia's Ministry of Water Resources estimates its rivers, chiefly the
Blue Nile, have the potential to produce more than 15,000 megawatts of power
and irrigate nearly nine million acres -- if it gets the cooperation and
"The international community has to understand this, rather than just give
us food handouts," says Shiferaw Jarso, Ethiopia's minister of water
resources. "This year, the U.S. gives us $500 million in food aid and it's
gone within one year. People get the food, but it never brings additional
value for the country. If this money goes to a power project or irrigation,
it can keep on helping every year."
According to the region's new math, what helps Ethiopia can also help Egypt.
The countries are studying a plan for four hydropower dams on the Blue Nile.
These dams could produce enough energy not only to supply Ethiopia's
domestic demand but also to feed into Egypt's extensive power grid for sale
to users all the way up to Europe.
The dams would also serve as sediment traps for the topsoil that washes down
from Ethiopia's denuded hillsides. Currently, the silt from the Blue Nile is
building up in Egypt's Aswan Dam and a couple of smaller dams in Sudan. Over
time, if the runoff isn't controlled, the silting could cripple the dams.
Engineers from both countries agree that dams in the cool and moist
Ethiopian highlands, storing water in deep natural gorges, would lose far
less water to evaporation than the Aswan Dam in the hot, dry Egyptian
desert. They calculate the savings on evaporation could compensate for the
amount of water Ethiopia proposes to use for irrigation.
"There's enough water -- it is a matter of managing it," says Egypt's
Metawie. "To look at the Nile from a selfish point of view won't help
Still, plenty of people remain wary, particularly Egyptian farmers. Despite
the calculations of their experts, many farmers, such as Samir Hamed, fear
that any use of Nile water upstream would mean that less is available to
Mr. Hamed, 45, tends about 200 acres on the far edge of the Nile Delta. His
is the last farm before the desert. But thanks to the network of canals and
pumping stations, his land is alive with apples, grapes, apricots,
cucumbers, pepper, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cherry tomatoes and eggplant,
plus 600 head of cattle. Through a U.S.-sponsored program called AgLink, he
has refined his farm management, even learning how to use a shower system to
cool off his water buffalo calves. That, too, is Nile water.
What if Ethiopian farmers would tap the Nile like he does? "I'm sure it
would effect the amount of water we can use," Mr. Hamed says. "Without
Nile water, I can't plant or raise cattle."
That is something too ghastly for Mohamed Abd-Elsalam, another Egyptian
farmer, to contemplate. "The Nile is my soul. And without a soul a man is
dead," he says. A narrow V-shaped concrete canal delivers the Nile waters
his one-acre plot, where wheat, garlic, seed oil and alfalfa grow
year-round. If anything slows the flow of the river to his land, he says,
"I'll go to Ethiopia and farm. I'll follow the water."
Overcoming these life-and-death concerns is a major part of the Nile Basin
Initiative. In the past two years, the Ethiopians have given Blue Nile tours
to Egyptians who shape public opinion on water use -- officials in the
Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, parliamentarians and
journalists. Some of them have been the harshest critics of Ethiopia's
motives, accusing Ethiopia of clandestine dam-building projects supported by
Israel and the U.S. to block the Nile waters and starve Egypt.
The tours have included helicopter rides over the Blue Nile basin to prove
that such dam projects don't exist. The Egyptians also visited some of the
most impoverished and hungry regions of the country, and those that are the
most denuded, where rivulets thick with soil run down the hills into the
Blue Nile and eventually into Egypt.
"The Egyptians were really surprised. There weren't even any trees,"
Yacob Wondimkun, the commissioner for sustainable agriculture and
environmental rehabilitation in Ethiopia's Amhara region. The conclusion, he
says, was clear: "Unless we have watershed management in Ethiopia, the
whole system will be hurt."
Abbas Al Tarabeely, editor of the Egyptian newspaper Al Wafd, took his
suspicions on one of the trips. He returned to Cairo with ideas. "Why not
create water-storage areas for irrigation, like small dams? They would help
relieve suffering while also not placing too much burden on the Nile," he
says. "It is important to let Egyptians know that the Ethiopians are going
through enough without making matters worse by focusing on conspiracy
That may ease the frustration of people such as Tesfahun Belachew, an
Ethiopian farmer, whose land is near the Ribb River, another of the Blue
Nile's tributaries. For the past nine months, as the mercurial weather has
ruined his crops, his family has survived on food aid from abroad. His
one-acre field floods when the rains are good and the river rampages. When
the rains fail, his crops wither while the river meanders by. There are no
dams to regulate the flow, no canals or pumps to drain the fields during
flooding or release the water during drought.
"The water is right here," he says, "but we can't get it
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Unable to Tap Power of the Nile, Ethiopia Relies on Fuel Carriers
November 26, 2003
By ROGER THUROW
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Late every afternoon, as the sun begins to set, the
traffic thickens on the roads coming down from the forested hills around
this capital city. Not with cars, but with as many as 15,000 women carrying
bundles of branches, leaves and twigs weighing between 70 and 100 pounds.
Their pace is a slow, stooped trot, propelled by the weight of the load
balanced on their shoulders. The bundles are more than 6 feet wide -- wider
than the women are tall. By the time the women reach the city markets, it is
dark and they have covered as many as 10 miles on foot. If they are lucky,
they will receive top price for their bundle: about 70 cents.
These are Ethiopia's women fuel-wood carriers, and their backbreaking labor
is one of the legacies of the inequitable Nile River politics of the region.
Although Ethiopia has some of the best hydropower potential on in Africa,
mainly on the cascading Blue Nile River, only a tiny fraction of it has been
developed because of political animosity over who should use the Nile
waters. Less than 10% of the country is electrified, and for many customers
the cost is so great that they ration use.
Thus, biomass fuels such as wood, charcoal and cow dung account for more
than 90% of the country's final energy consumption. In electrified Addis
Ababa, the women's branches, leaves and twigs provide about a third of the
wood-fuel supply, most of which is used for cooking.
Ethiopia has proposed a number of hydropower projects to the Nile Basin
Initiative, which would increase the supply of electricity and likely lower
the cost. That, in turn, would damp the demand for biomass fuel and for the
fuel-wood carriers. While fuel-carrier jobs would be lost, the wider
electrification of the country would likely spur economic development and
create other, more lucrative jobs.
"I pray that all women fuel-wood carriers would find other means of
employment," says Etenesh Ayele, 36 years old, the head of the Former
Fuelwood Carriers Association. She carried wood for nearly 10 years,
beginning as a teenager and stopping only when the association began
teaching skills such as weaving, woodworking and food preparation to the
The World Bank and an Ethiopian government agency are trying to organize the
carriers so they can arrange truck transport and retail depots for their
bundles, as well as negotiate bulk sales and better prices. The Bank is also
trying to round up donor support for the former carriers association, which
hopes to expand its skills workshops and help more women find new work.
For the moment, though, many of the carriers are like Abonesh Haile, who
says she is "20 or so" and has been carrying for seven years. She has
child and her parents to support. Broken bones from falls are common, she
says. Still, she is picking up sticks every morning at 8 a.m. and by 4 p.m.
she is making her way back down the hill.
She would like to join the ranks of the former carriers at the association,
but she says, "There are no other jobs."
Nor are there other modern fuel alternatives, at least not yet. "If you
don't improve the life of the people," says Gebremedhin Haderea, manager of
the biomass inventory project in the ministry of agriculture, "the use of
biomass fuel will continue."
And so will the stooped deliveries of the women fuel-wood carriers.
Ethiopia Needs Help in Fight Against Hunger
By Charles MacCormack
August 25, 2003
FYI - Charles MacCormack is president
and CEO of Save the Children, a global
development and relief agency operating programs
in 40 countries including
the United States.
A quick quiz: Where is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today?
Surprised? Based on recent news coverage, you may have named any number of
In Ethiopia, however, famine - not war - is devastating a nation of 67
million and killing thousands of young children, with little notice in the
In southern Ethiopia, the epicenter of the current hunger crisis, the death
toll among children under 5 is likely rising faster than in any other region
in the world. Thousands of children, perhaps tens of thousands, have died
throughout the country already this year.
More than 12 million people - half under the age of 15 - currently need food
aid in Ethiopia, and this number could rise to 14 million by the end of the
year. Tens of thousands of children, most between the ages of 2 and 5, are
severely malnourished, and many face almost certain death in coming months
unless they can get immediate medical assistance.
In southern Ethiopia, efforts are under way to meet the escalating crisis.
With strong support from the U.S. government, private relief agencies such
as Save the Children are setting up emergency therapeutic feeding centers
throughout the region. Each of these centers provides 100 or more children a
daily regimen of enriched milk, specially formulated porridge, antibiotics,
vitamins, vaccinations and treatment for diseases.
While the crisis is not yet over, emergency centers - coupled with
coordinated food distribution programs throughout the rest of the country -
are helping Ethiopia avert the huge death toll of the 1984-5 famine that
claimed as many as 1 million lives.
On a recent visit, I saw firsthand the results of U.S. emergency assistance
at one feeding center in Yirba. Operating since April, the center has
treated more than 400 children and saved 95 percent of those admitted. The
low death rate, duplicated at many other U.S.-supported centers, is
remarkable considering that five or 10 years ago mortality rates at such
facilities were running 20 percent or higher. Even more encouraging,
Ethiopians themselves are taking the lead in running the day-to-day
While I found the sight of so many severely malnourished children shocking,
I also found cause for hope. Through the close collaboration of many
partners, including private relief agencies, United Nations agencies, the
U.S. government and the Ethiopian government, we are saving thousands of
lives and helping avert an almost unimaginable human catastrophe.
That's the good news. The bad news: There is no quick fix.
Hunger and malnutrition have become a way of life for millions of
Ethiopians. Persistent drought, chronic poverty, rapid population growth,
environmental degradation and HIV/AIDS have complicated efforts to improve
the quality of life. Eighty percent of the people are farmers and herders,
most of them illiterate. There is an enormous need for effective grassroots
community development efforts to help overhaul agricultural policies and
Is there a solution? Yes, but only if the world community makes a long-term
commitment over the next decade to ensure that famine does not return.
Lessons have been learned and re-learned over the past two decades. And one
key lesson is that much more money for long-term development is needed.
Investments in health, education and safe drinking water - and policies that
promote more efficient agricultural production - are critical to Ethiopia's
future. The United States once again can lead the way, as it has during the
The potential rewards are enormous. If we can get it right - and win the war
on hunger in Ethiopia - we can create a model to bring lasting positive
change to the lives of millions of children and their families throughout
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.
NEW YORK TIMES
July 28, 2003
Famine is again stalking Ethiopia - this time casting a wider shadow. While a
million people died in the famine of 1984 and 1985, today more than 12 million
are at risk, half of those children under 15. Perhaps the most chilling aspect
of today's crisis is that the famine persists despite generous outside food aid.
Donations of wheat, soybeans and oil can stave off much of the starvation in the
short term, but they cannot keep hunger from returning year after year. Drought
is the primary reason Ethiopians go hungry, but it intertwines with other
factors that keep Ethiopians too poor and too sick to recover from drought
years. The world, which thankfully has fully met Ethiopia's appeal for emergency
food, needs to address these underlying problems. While Ethiopia is an extreme
case, it is an ominous leading indicator of what may soon happen in other
African nations. Rural Ethiopians have never fully recovered from the famine of
1984, nor the severe droughts that have come after, especially in 1999 and 2000.
The impact of drought in Ethiopia is magnified by the country's deforestation
and the depletion of soil by farmers who cannot afford to let land lie fallow.
The effects of dry periods linger long after the rains return. Drought reduces
harvests and deprives livestock of water and pasture, forcing farmers and animal
herders into a spiral of debt. Washington's extravagant subsidies for America's
cotton farmers have added to the problem by undercutting the export market for
Ethiopian cotton, one of the country's major products. Even if the rains are
good, each year Ethiopians get hungrier. Next year they will have poorer health,
fewer cows and sheep, a smaller stock of seeds, less money and more debt than
this year. The long-term issue is poverty - famine hits those too destitute to
buy food or produce their own. Fighting famine inside Ethiopia means providing
not only emergency food but also programs to help people emerge from the trap of
destitution. Rural Ethiopians need more markets for their crops and better roads
to be able to move their products to other parts of the country. They could use
projects to make water accessible to poor peasants, seed banks and programs to
increase livestock supplies. And they need better health care - the government
spends only $1.50 per person for health care each year, although Ethiopia now
has more than two million people with the AIDS virus, and the infection is
exploding. Some countries in southern Africa are also beginning to suffer from
hunger that does not go away, and their tribulations may turn into persistent
famine as droughts intensify and AIDS incapacitates more and more workers.
International donors are much readier to ship grain than to attack difficult,
long-term development goals. But without such help, food aid will become a
permanent necessity. Famine is not a sudden event but an evolving process, one
that involves much more than food.
Ethiopia needs US leadership
By Thomas Oliphant
TO UNDERSTAND better the weeks of indecision by American leadership on Liberia,
it helps to shift the focus from current headlines to another country that is
challenging our conscience as well as our vision - Ethiopia. The fact that
Ethiopia is not in the headlines to the extent Liberia has been is a large clue
to the problem. According to Catholic Relief Services, the lead agency among the
private groups attempting to avert catastrophe every day, thousands are dying in
the country from the diseases that come inevitably after severe malnutrition. At
least 12 million people are in immediate danger and completely dependent on
government and outside assistance to survive, according to Anne Bousquet of
Catholic Relief Services. One bad crop (harvest time looms and rainfall remains
erratic), and nearly three times as many will be in mortal peril as were at risk
during the famous famine 20 years ago when one million people perished. There is
no greater impending humanitarian emergency in the world. This is occurring,
mind you, in a barely developing society that is at least half poor, with the
third highest AIDS population in the world as well as a million AIDS orphans,
and with a nearly 2.8 percent annual growth rate in population. So far, the
United States and the Europeans have responded with speed and generosity to the
immediate crisis. The US contribution to humanitarian assistance totals nearly
$450 million in pledges so far this year, a timely and significant commitment
that includes the vital medicines that can slow the spread of diseases like
malaria, pneumonia, measles, and dysentery. The situation in Ethiopia and the
heroic work of Catholic Relief Services was called to my attention the other day
by a friend as President Bush was enjoying the generally favorable reviews about
his recent trip to the continent. This led me to inquire about how Bush had
addressed this potential calamity while he was there because I did not recall
reading anything about it during the trip. It turns out the president didn't
make a sound about Ethiopia. This was no accidental omission. It turns out that
the humanitarian assistance the United States is providing is coming at the
expense of the longer-term prevention policies and development assistance that
could give Ethiopia a meaningful shove toward self-sufficiency. Unfortunately,
according to the latest budget figures, barely one percent (less than $5
million) of the money flowing to the country is for development and water
resources. These appallingly skewed priorities fly in the face of experts' views
of what serious commitments need to look like in the 21st century. As Anne Bous
quet put it recently, ''Ethiopia needs help not only to respond to famine but
also to prevent it, and that will require policy reform and investment for
long-term development, particularly in the areas of water and agriculture.'' She
could have added trade policy as well. As the country struggles to get to its
feet, it is obvious that it is as prepared for life in the global economy as
anyone. However, the realities of this system often include huge doses of
protectionism on the part of supposedly mature countries, including the United
States. For all of Bush's faithfulness to market economics, his restrictive
policies toward products like textiles could be doing as much harm to Ethiopia
as the humanitarian assistance is doing good. Instead of change, however, Bush
is promoting his support for the long-range development initiative known as the
Millennium Challenge Account. Nothing wrong with it per se, but it is almost
exclusively oriented toward the much better-off countries. This halting,
ultimately myopic approach to Ethiopia helps explain the obtuse behavior with
regard to Liberia. The topic could hardly be avoided while Bush was on his trip,
but his message (we'll help stabilize the war-ravaged country but details will
come later) was lost in a maze of intra-administration squabbles and moral
indecision upon his return. Indeed, the post-trip dithering has probably blotted
out whatever goodwill the trip produced. Sometimes everyone else in the parade
is out of step, but in this case the unanimous chorus calling on the United
States to provide leadership as Britain has in nearby Sierra Leone and France
has in Ivory Coast and Congo is correct. Even by Bush's own doctrines, rogue
states fighting resources wars and attracting terrorists are supposed to be
dangerous - which they are. Bush is anxious to establish his good intentions in
Africa, but this is a continent where the realities mock good intentions unless
they are accompanied by real leadership and sound policies. Bush is providing
OXFAM International Update:
Ethiopia: who eats alone, dies alone
(July 31, 2003)
Tiringo lives with her husband and eight surviving children in the woreda
(district) of Boloso Sore, in southern Ethiopia. Each month Tiringo receives
"four buckets of wheat" from the government's general food ration, and
9 kilos of supplementary food for herself, as a lactating mother, and for Kekias,
her ten-month-old child. Those targeted for supplementary food receive 4.5 kg
each of Corn Soya Blend, though as Tiringo says, "I have another child in
worse condition (than Kekias)." Several of Tiringo's children are suffering
from diarrhea. "We normally grow maize, sorghum and barley," Tiringo
explained, "but there is none at the moment. We beg enset (false banana)
from our neighbor." "If we have some money I buy sugar to mix with the
food to feed all of us. If all the children are hungry and if there are adults
who are also hungry, we share the food." -- Melike Temamo
Melike lives with her husband and five children in Boloso Sore. Another of her
children, aged four, died early this year "because of the drought, because
of the lack of food." Melike receives supplementary food for one child,
"but I have another child at home who is also malnourished." Melike's
land is around 0.25 acres. This year the maize, beans, and enset that the family
normally depends upon have not grown well because of the drought. "I don't
understand how we can overcome all these problems. I don't know how long we will
be assisted. There is a lot of disease, malaria, and drought." About the
future: "God willing, the rains will come and we will get something. I
would try and sell wood... We will work hard to sell through petty trade and
daily labor." "I make the [supplementary] food into a porridge, which
we share. We eat one meal a day." -- Gojame Golijo. Gojame is a lone
grandparent looking after her four-year-old grandson, Ashenafi, on her small
farm in Boloso Sore. "I receive eight kilos of wheat every two months,
which I roast. It lasts five to ten days." Gojame also receives 4.5 kg of
supplementary food for Ashenafi. The maize she hopes to harvest from her tiny
'field' will last one
month. The land is shared with neighbors who helped her to plough it. A calf
lives in the house with them. It isn't theirs, but in return for looking
after it Gojame can use the dung for fertilizer. Gojame has elephantiasis and
frequent bouts of malaria. Ashenafi has diarrhea and a cough. About the future
Gojame says: "I don't have any other hope than God." It does not take
the wisdom of Solomon to decide what to do if you receive extra food for one
child and your other children are malnourished and hungry. This sharing does not
stop at the family: many people share with their extended family and neighbors
who have not been targeted to receive food from the government's general food
ration. Extra food intended for specific children and lactating mothers is
equally divided among children and adults.
In Boloso Sore alone, the official number of people in need of food (April 2003)
was set at 60,000. Those working on the ground put the real figure closer to
120,000. "There were problems targeting," explains Menasie Shanka, an
executive member of the Peasant Association. "There were just too many
people during the screening. There were law and order problems. Our resources
limited. So the number of targeted people is small compared with need.
People are sharing. Families are sharing, neighbors are sharing...everyone
is affected equally." Ethiopian government food distribution guidelines
state that only children registered for general ration distribution may receive
In Ethiopia it is generally recognized that, while the areas of greatest need
have been identified, targeting, ration size, nutritional balance, and numbers
in need are problematic. This is not just a problem for now, but a long-term
issue. Ethiopia is experiencing more and more frequent and successive droughts
(1984, 1994, 1999-00, 2002-03). Even in a normal year, five to six million
people depend on food aid to survive. Besides the importance of addressing
underlying structural problems, there is an urgency to develop national capacity
to adequately assess, identify, and target all in need. Otherwise, the absence
of food aid, or reduced ration size and poor nutritional balance, will lead to
slow starvation, illness, and disease. It will undermine the physical and mental
development of children, and leave many unable to attend school, collect water,
farm land, or participate in
the community projects that can address the country's long-term vulnerability to
drought, and the avoidable suffering and death that it brings.
Oxfam is working with local partners to:
* distribute supplementary food to 12,400 malnourished children, pregnant and
lactating mothers, and other marginalized people;
* distribute water to 13,000 beneficiaries; and
* improve the accuracy of food assessments and targeting in Boloso
Sore and throughout Ethiopia.