Thursday, 22 October 2009

Millions need emergency food aid, 25 years after Ethiopia's worst famine

Ethiopia has appealed for emergency aid to help feed 6.2 million people.

NAIROBI, KENYA (OCTOBER 22, 2009) REUTERS - Ethiopia appealed for emergency aid to feed 6.2 million people on Thursday (October 22), 25 years after more than a million perished in the country's notorious 1984 famine. Aid agency Oxfam says although short term assistance is necessary, a long term solution is the only way to change what has become -- over the years -- reliance on handouts.
"It's more... what's not changed. So, what's not changed is that there are millions of people who aren't able -- year on year -- to reliably feed themselves, and that's not changed and that's not satisfactory. It's great that people don't starve, where there is assistance and there is predictable assistance, and that's great. But insufficient energy has been put behind finding the longer term solutions so people can get out of this current reliance on food aid and that's what we think needs to change," said Oxfam's Paul Lomas.

More than 1 million Ethiopians died in 1984 as millions in the rich world sat transfixed in front of their television screens. The huge scale of the suffering brought with it the biggest outpouring of charity money the world has ever seen.

But 25 years on, foreigners still feed huge numbers of Ethiopians.

Oxfam says food aid has trapped Ethiopia into a cycle of dependency on the West and that donations could be better spent.

"We are really looking for both definitely when people... when an emergency appeal like this comes out the donors must respond and people do need food. But we also think that the long term funding is needed too. Now, there are ways that you can do a certain amount of both -- if more money for emergency food aid is invested inside the region, then we could be recycling the economy far more, we could be promoting local agricultural investment far more than buying grain from somewhere on the other side of the world," said Lomas.

Many Ethiopians say they are sick of their image as a famished country and point to foreign investors' growing interest in the country.

"I think every time I meet people who are recipients of food aid it's not a place they are happy to be in, they have their own personal ambitions, their own dignity, they are looking for a way out themselves. People want to get to be in a situation where they can stand on their own two feet," said Lomas.

On top of the 6.2 million people needing food aid, another 7 million people are on a scheme that gives food in exchange for work, which means more than 13 million of the country's 83 million people rely on foreign handouts to survive.

Aid workers say a five-year drought is afflicting more than 23 million people in seven east African nations.