Aid agencies and Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi warned this week that if international aid does not arrive soon, the numbers of people who could die in Ethiopia in 2003 will be even more than died in the 1984 famine which received international publicity and an outpouring of sympathy from Western nations.
“If that was a nightmare,” Zenawi told The Scotsman, “then this will be too ghastly to contemplate. We can’t cope on our own with the requirements of the current drought.”
United Nations World Food Program spokesman Wagdi Othman told The Scotsman,
There are six million people in need of food aid now and we think hat number will increase dramatically next year to ten to 14 million. A lot of people are already hungry and they are threatened by starvation. We will have a clearer picture by next year, but we can’t wait for those figures to come and we have been ringing alarm bells since June. No-one can say that they weren’t aware of this.
Neighboring Eritrea is also hard hit by the droughts, poverty, and continued hostilities between the two countries. At the moment the Eritrean government says that 1.4 million people will face food shortages through the end of next year, and that number is likely to climb to 2.3 million in a country of around 4 million people.
Interestingly, The Scotsman highlights a main problem with international relief efforts, quoting officials who admit that the 1984-inspired relief efforts didn’t even make a dent at long term structural changes in Ethiopia. The Band Aid and Live Aid fund raising efforts raised more than Pounds 110 million, most of which was spent on basic technology,
. . . and Penny Jenden, the former Band Aid chief executive, has since admitted that Africa is littered with the remains of tractors or drilling rigs that nobody knew how to mend.
Current aid efforts aren’t likely to do any better. Until Ethiopia and Eritrea decide to end all hostilities, reform their governments, and tackle poverty and other issues in earnest, the best donor nations can do is simply feed people who would otherwise starve and forget grandiose notions about preventing future famines.
Threat to 15 million as new famine hits Ethiopia. Gethin Chamberlain, The Scotsman, November 12, 2002.
Eritrea: Fear of hunger sets in. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, November 10, 2002.