In recent months, Ethiopia’s troubled government has been increasingly accused of inaction and corruption in the face of serious famine concerns. Recurring droughts have devastated the country, causing 46 percent of the population to be malnourished, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Despite a recent report by the organization which stated world hunger has decreased for the first time in 15 years, 35 million people go to bed every night without enough to eat in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, a landlocked country located on the Horn of Africa, is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, and one with a long history of suffering. Throughout the nation’s existence, environmental concerns have caused food shortages that have made it difficult to nourish the rapidly growing population, while historically disorganized governments have failed to distribute the nation’s scarce resources properly in the face of humanitarian crises.
These problems continue to the present day. The government of Ethiopia, while superficially democratic, is termed an “authoritarian regime” by The Economist, an accusation supported by numerous reports of fraudulent elections and coercive libel laws. The highly publicized Ethiopian police massacre, which followed the 2005 election, left 193 protestors dead in the capital of Addis Abba. After the same election, the government arrested 76 opposition politicians and journalists under charges of treason and genocide.
The current government and several past governments have shirked responsibility in the face of harsh accusations of inaction in response to famine, blaming the widespread hunger on “acts of God” like crop failure and lack of rain. While both have occurred, according to Martin Plaut of the BBC, “drought does not need to mean hunger and destitution.” The government, though pledging to a free-market economy, owns all of the farmland in the country and prevents its sale. Laws are created in order to keep farmers on those state-owned lands regardless of crop function, restricting the ability of farmers to produce effectively. Many experts, like Indian Economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, argue that instituting democracy and raising human rights in the country would eliminate the presence of famine by forcing the government to be held accountable for food shortages and to respond to the demands of its electorate. Beyond inaction, the government of Ethiopia has blatantly ignored the presence of a famine in its country. In a Time interview at the end of 2008, a government official unequivocally denied the presence of a famine in his country, despite reports and statistics that proved otherwise.
Government failure and idleness aside, Ethiopia has been badly affected environmentally, particularly in the last few years. The climate lends itself to two rainy seasons, one in early spring and another, much heavier, during the summer and early fall. In 2009, though both rainy seasons brought lower than average rainfall, leading to the failure of agricultural production in many areas. The division of Ethiopia into 11 semi-autonomous regions creates communication difficulties, adding to the inadequate distribution of the already limited food supplies. This prevents drought-stricken areas from receiving aid from areas with more rainfall and better production. In cities such as the nation’s capitol, Addis Abba, food supplies are much more readily available, affording for a much higher standard of living, while rural regions suffer. In most rural areas, Ethiopian citizens are forced to live off rain-based subsistence farming. When the rains fail, they lose that vital production and lack other options by which to obtain food. Forty-four percent of the Ethiopian population lives below the poverty line. Subsistence farmers who cannot produce crops for their family often lack the purchasing power to buy food, if there is even any made available to them.
Through diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, the United States has worked to relieve hunger and reduce the nation’s vulnerability to famine in the face of droughts. America is Ethiopia’s largest donor, giving the East African country over $1 billion USD each year. While the U.S. has attempted to focus that aid on areas regarding economic and social sector reforms, many critics accuse the Ethiopian government of misusing such funds in order to strengthen the power of the authoritarian regime. What is seen in Ethiopia is a common theme in impoverished and hunger-stricken areas. Environmental problems like droughts or crop failures, though often the original cause of undernourishment and famine, are exacerbated by the poor workings of distracted and disorderly governments.
If hunger worsens in the future, the onus will be upon the U.S. to make sure its generous aid is used only for its direct purpose – in the case of Ethiopia, limiting drastic famine and combating world hunger, one meal at a time. n