A year ago this month the Today Programme revealed the scale of the human tragedy that was facing drought stricken Ethiopia.
Rains in most parts of the country had failed, crops had turned to dust and as many as 14 million people were in danger of starvation. In an exclusive interview, the country's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, warned that unless relief arrived on a scale never seen before the situation would be even worse than the famine which inspired the Band Aid appeal and resulted in more than two million deaths. This month Mike Thomson returned to Ethiopia to find out what has happened since.
UPDATE FRI 21 NOV
Ethiopia and Eritrea have been warned that time is running out to resolve their long running dispute over the border village of Badme. The head of the UN’s peace keeping efforts in the area, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, had told this programme that if both nations fail to come to some agreement soon the Security Council may have to consider scaling down it’s operations there. Tension has been rising on the border ever since Ethiopia refused to accept a ruling by the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary Commission two months ago that Badme is Eritrean. Click on link to the right to listen to Mike's report on this dispute.
UPDATE WED 19 NOV
In the second report to air this week, Mike goes in search of Fayo Hadji, the eight year-old boy he met last year when reporting on Ethiopia. Fayo's story highlighted the severity of the humanitarian crisis facing his country as a result of the drought which left about 14 million people dependent on emergency aid to avoid starvation. To listen to the report, click on the link to the right.
In November 2002, Fayo, then eight, told Mike that his family had nothing to eat as their crops had failed due to lack of both the annual rain seasons.
At that time, Fayo was convinced he would die and said that he hoped for a quick death rather than the slow starvation he might endure waiting for aid to arrive. On Mike's return to the village this month, Mike found that Fayo and his family had survived thanks to the $800 million foreign aid that has poured into Ethiopia after Today's reports last year.
Fayo, now 10, thanked Mike for returning and for reporting his plight to the world. Having been forced to drop out of school during the height of the drought, Fayo is now back in school and dreams that when he grows up he can become an airline pilot or a government official who might help his community in the event of a future drought. Around eight million Ethiopians are still at present reliant on food aid. But the harvest is currently underway and thanks to improved rains this year many Ethiopians like Fayo and his family will be able to feed themselves again this Winter.
Sacks of donated grain pile up at a UN World Food Programme warehouse south of Addis Ababa. They came from Britain - now one of Ethiopia’s biggest donors - but they’ve also been pouring in to this hungry drought-plagued land from all over the world during the last 12 months.
I spoke to Georgia Shaver, the World Food Programme’s Country Director. "As of date we've received a little over 90% of the food requirements,” she said. “1.8 million tonnes has come into the country - which was beyond anyone's imagination when we saw each other last year. In financial terms we're looking at about $7-8 hundred million. We've never seen such a response – certainly not in my lifetime. I don't think it can even be compared in this respect to the 1984 drought."
A large map on the wall showed areas of the country where, despite the globe’s generosity, help is still needed. There are fewer than before, now that the rains have finally come in some formerly parched places, but it’s estimated that around seven million people still need help to survive. That figure isn’t likely to get much lower:
"If we exclude Iraq I believe that Ethiopia could be the biggest emergency right now in the world,” Georgia said. “It's hard to keep up the interest and the momentum, because there are other things that will come up in the course of the year that will take attention away. In the case of Ethiopia I'm hopeful that the donor community - which is very significant and very large here - will rise to the occasion."
At this time last year there were fears that the streets of Addis Ababa would be swamped by hordes of hungry, desperate farmers and their families, forced to turn their backs on the land. But though the arrival of food aid, and in some cases long awaited rains, seems for now to have stopped any stampede to the cities, the country’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who first warned the world that disaster could be coming, says famine still stalks many parts of the nation. "Our worst fears have not materialised, fortunately. We have not been able to avoid deaths completely, but we have succeeded in avoiding mass deaths that we felt were just around the corner,” he said. “But the structural problems remain, and in the nomadic parts of the country, the South and the East, we should have had rains in October, but they were delayed for more than a month. We do not yet know whether that part of the country is out of the woods. "
At an emergency relief centre run by Oxfam to the west of Dire Dawa near the Somali border, several hundred people were queueing for grain. One frail old man with a large crooked stick rested on a sack he’d managed to drag away from the throng. Spotting my microphone, a jostling crowd of mainly mothers and young children pushed forward to tell their stories. I asked one man whether he was hopeful that things would get better. He was not.
But drive for less than half hour back towards the capital and you find water rushing down from the mountains above. A group of farmers were singing and sytheing their way through fields of crops, fearing their harvest could soon be spoiled by rain, as thick white clouds filled the sky. Drive on just a little further, the singing stops, and the ground, once again, crumbles to dust beneath your feet.
At a small clinic in the province of Orimiya, south of Addis Ababa, a baby was crying - not because of lack of water, but because it was in pain, suffering from a disease that could be cured by drugs. But these cost money. Most people here don’t have much of that after being forced to sell their animals during the height of the drought to buy seeds for crops that failed. In an area where malaria is becoming an ever bigger problem, such poverty can be fatal. I spoke to theDoctor who runs the clinic: “we still have a shortage of medicine - especially emergency drugs,” he said.I asked him what people did when they needed treatment. He explained that they had to get drugs from private pharmacies: that many died as a result of malnourishment, because they had to sell their crops to buy drugs. “Malnourishment among children under five in this area is almost 80%, so if these people get a disease their only choice they have is to die."
A typical family in this area, as in many other parts of Ethiopia, has six or seven children. The population is soaring by three per cent a year, but there’s no such increase in the amount of arable land or food to eat. This greatly worries Martti Ahtisaari, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa. "In the past there was one drought every seven to ten years. Now there is one nearly every year, or every second year. They have become much more frequent, and there is very little that one can do, except to be more prepared.”
This opinion is shared by the Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute. It’s Director, Dr. Berhanu Nega, says that if current trends continue things may soon go from bad to very bad indeed: "The number of people that need continuous help even under good rain conditions is now about 6 million, which was the peak of the famine in 1984 / 85, and during drought years like last year this figure is increased to 14 million,” he explained. “If we look at this trend closely, over time, our predictions show by 2028 you'd have something like 50 million people affected. This would fundamentally change what is happening in Ethiopian culture: a disaster is bound to come."
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