Hunger in Ethiopia

Remember the images from the 1980's of the starving people of Ethiopia, and how those images mobilized a global response? The failed harvests and inadequate food distribution channels still exist in that country. The good news is that we do not expect a repeat of the wide-spread crisis of the 80's. The bad news is that a state of near starvation has become the new "normal" for Ethiopians.

USA Today has an article reporting on the situation:

Unlike 1985, when images of a famine that killed 1 million Ethiopians shocked the West — "We are the world!" pop stars sang at the globally televised Live Aid concert that raised more than $250 million — this year aid workers say there probably will be no mass starvation. An expensive, elaborate social welfare apparatus, erected largely by the world's rich nations to avert another 1985, will not permit it.

Those good intentions, however, have helped produce another problem: A nation that has long seen itself as the most independent in Africa faces an ever-growing dependence on food aid from countries who now must deal with increasing food problems of their own.

At least 14 million Ethiopians — 18% of the nation — need food aid (much of it from the USA) or cash assistance, according to government figures and aid agency estimates.

Since 1985 the population has doubled to almost 80 million, and per-capita farm production has declined. Meanwhile, the global cost of raising and moving food keeps rising.

It all makes Ethiopia's hunger "a ticking time bomb," says Peter Walker, a Tufts University famine specialist.

Read the full article here.

The upshot is that while the existing programs can function to stave off any further starvation, should any additional pressures on the food supply occur, the mechanisms in place may inadvertently make the resulting calamity much more intense and longer lasting than it would otherwise be.

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