Ethiopia struggles with hunger 25 years after Live Aid

Twenty-five years ago the Christmas season was punctuated by worldwide attention focused on Ethiopian famine. Irish rock star Bob Geldof organized at who’s who of pop icons to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and released it in November 1984. The single and subsequent Live Aid concerts the following summer drew money and attention to the impoverished East African nation as about one million people died from starvation and malnutrition. The question now is whether or not Ethiopia has returned to the dire circumstances when it had the Western world’s attention and compassion focused on it. Currently Ethiopia has 6.2 million people who are in need of food distribution, said Lane Bunkers, country representative for Catholic Relief Services in Ethiopia. This figure, however, only tells a piece of the overall picture in this country of approximately 85 million people. “The government of Ethiopia has confirmed the number of people in need of emergency food distributions for the months of October to December of this year at 6.2 million,” Bunkers said. “This is in addition to the government’s multi-year food security program, called the Productive Safety Net Program, which has 7 million participants. “The geographic areas for food distribution are not concentrated in the traditional food-insecure regions from years past but have extended to almost a national level, with the hardest hit areas being in the eastern half of the country.” The eastern quadrant of the country borders the war-ravaged nation of Somalia, which has gained international attention recently for incidents of piracy on commercial vessels. Border instability may contribute to food-related issues including cattle-raising and sustainable agricultural development. Political instability in the whole of the country, however, is not a significant issue. “In general, there is peace and stability in most of the geographic regions of Ethiopia,” said Debebe Dawit, World Vision program management officer for humanitarian and emergency affairs overseeing Africa. “Indeed, the border conflict around Somalia may have effect on the Somali region. Otherwise, the impact can be said to be low.” Conversely, environmental impacts are a huge factor for what remains a largely agrarian society. Altered weather patterns attributed in part to climate changes have led to extended droughts and poor crop production. “In Ethiopia, 85 percent of all economic livelihoods come from agriculture,” Bunkers explained. “Changing weather patterns such as delayed and shorter rain seasons, along with higher incidences of flash flooding when the rains do arrive, are causing significant problems for traditional farmers who depend on one or possibly two crop cycles a year. Communities CRS has worked with to increase water access and crop irrigation are able to harvest multiple times a year, including vegetables that can be sold at higher prices than traditional grains.” Dawit further underscored the economic impact. “These days, the climate change in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa is triggered by global warming,” he said. “As it has been discussed in different communication media, the Su region (near neighboring Sudan and Eritrea) is among the victims due to limited capacity of the countries to buffer the impact of climate change on the production systems. … This means climate change can easily disturb the rainfall pattern, which determines the livelihood’s of 98 percent of the agrarian and pastoralist community in the country. This is to say, the extended drought period hampers crop production and availability of feed for humans and livestock.” The aspect of drought and rising malnutrition draw clear parallels to 1984-85. The substantial rise in population and higher level of engagement of international agencies frame Ethiopia today in a different context. “In general, the problem is not comparable to the 1984 famine situation, where millions of starved people died of hunger in ‘silence,’” Dawit said. “However, these days the donor agencies, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the federal government are collaboratively assessing the situation and taking joint action. The food shortage problems are identified and prioritized. “On the other hand, the problem is still getting worse due to entire dependence of our people on rain fed agriculture, where the rainfall has become unreliable in its amount and pattern for the past 10 years. As it has been mentioned through various communication media, the communities have not developed resilience to absorb environmental and economic shocks, economic crises, price escalation and inflation.” The question for the country’s future then becomes once, and if, the tide of the current crisis turns how both domestic and international sources approach the future. Bunkers again emphasized the need to address environmental concerns. “Aid agencies must work closely with the government to continue to provide the relief commodities that are so needed in many parts of the country,” he said. “Agencies and the government also need to commit additional resources to development programming in climate change adaptation and integrated development activities that will help to break this cycle of need.” From a Christian perspective and the biblical mandate to help the poor, it means a sustained and persistent effort once Ethiopia fades from widespread international attention as it did in the mid-’80s. “It is obvious that ‘haves’ and the poor are expected to demonstrate God’s love by living the words: that is caring for the most needy, by sharing our resources and concern to save the lives of many malnourished children,” Dawit said. “This means, they can show their passion by praying and sharing the pains and burdens of the poor by stretching hands.” And that passion doesn’t go unnoticed by those it’s intended to help. “Christians have a responsibility to be aware how our everyday decisions – the products we buy, the amount of energy we use, who we elect to represent us – have an impact on all people around the world,” Bunkers said. “Every Christian who makes lifestyle choices as an informed world citizen with an eye towards protecting all of God’s creation helps to solve the global food and financial crisis. “Ethiopians and others struggling across the globe also deeply appreciate prayers of support and knowing that others care about their plight.” Links: Catholic Relief Services: http://www.crs.org/ World Vision: http://www.worldvision.org/ Map of Ethiopian provinces: http://www.slideshare.net/mhadek/ethiopia-provinces-1046799 BBC News – Lasting legacy of Ethiopia’s famine: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8321043.stm The Independent (U.K.) – Millions facing famine in Ethiopia as rains fail: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/millions-facing-famine-in-ethiopia-as-rains-fail-1779376.html The Times of London — 25 years after Live Aid, Ethiopia tries to cover up a new famine: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article6920816.ece CIA World Factbook – Ethiopia: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jEnTSQStGE

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