Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ethiopia's Man-made Famine

Ethiopia is a large country (385,925 sq. miles), with a population of just over 101 million (13th largest in the world), which is growing at a yearly rate of around 2.5% (over double the world-wide average). The government proudly boasts that the Ethiopian economy has been growing, by between 7% and 8%.More than half the population live on less than $1 a day; over 80% of the population live in rural areas (where birth-rates are highest) and work in agriculture; the majority being smallholder farmers who rely on the crops they grow to feed themselves and their families. Nevertheless Ethiopia still finds itself ranked 174th out of 188 countries in the UN Human Development Index. This suggests that whatever ‘growth’ the country has achieved, it has not changed the lives of the majority of Ethiopians. It is evidenced by the millions suffering from hunger and malnutrition, has clearly not eradicated food insecurity.

Millions of the poorest, most vulnerable people in Ethiopia are at risk of starvation. Elderly men and women, weak and desperate, wait for food and water; malnourished children lie dying; livestock, bones protruding, perish. According to a statement issued by the World Food Programme (WFP), over 10 million of the most vulnerable require urgent humanitarian assistance. This does not take into account the seven and a half million people who annually receive cash or food from Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme taking the total in need of humanitarian food aid to almost 18 million. The worst affected areas, according to USAID, are the pastoral areas of Afar and Ogaden Region – where people rely totally on their livestock – and the agricultural lowlands of East and West Haraghe – close to the capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia – where millions rely on food aid every year – exports food. Since 2008 the government has been leasing huge amounts of fertile agricultural land to so-called “foreign investors’’: international corporations, domestic agents, fund managers, and nations anxious to secure their own future food security. In 2011 it was estimated that 3,619,509 hectares of land have been transferred to investors. and is sold with the understanding that it is cleared of everything – including people, by government forces. Indigenous people (who have lived on the land for generations) are displaced and herded into camps – the universally condemned ‘Villagization’ programme. Over a million people have been affected. Industrial size farms have been built and foodstuffs (not eaten by the native population) grown for export, – to the investor’s homeland – India, for example. Very little, if any, of the food grown is going into the Ethiopian food market, and there are attractive government incentives in place to ensure that food production is exported, providing foreign exchange for the country at the expense of local food supplies. The NGO Oakland Institute found that these commercial agricultural investments, by national and multi-national companies “increase rates of food insecurity” in Ethiopia, and that, despite “endemic poverty and food insecurity, there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that these investments contribute to improved food security.”

It is the poor who die of hunger-related causes throughout the world; it is the poorest people in rural Ethiopia – who constitute some of the poorest people on Earth – who are currently at risk. Every day 35,000 children in the world die of starvation and its attendant causes, but we live in a world of plenty; there is no need for a single man, woman, or child – in Ethiopia or anywhere else – to die because they do not have enough food or water to survive. Oxfam reports that the world now “produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago. But close to a billion people go to sleep hungry every night.” And they all live, more or less, in seven countries: India, China, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

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