Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ethiopia and the End of Famine

To the Editor:
Re “Is the Era of Great Famines Over?” (Opinion Pages, May 8):
While Alex de Waal correctly notes that Ethiopia has made incredible progress since the famine of 1984-85, we can’t dismiss the severity of the drought right now. According to the U.N. World Food Programme, roughly 75 percent of affected households are skipping meals and almost one quarter have sold productive assets like livestock to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Ethiopia continues to host more refugees than any other nation in Africa.
The government of Ethiopia should be lauded for its efforts to address this historic drought — de Waal rightly mentions the resources it has committed to the relief effort, including the productive safety net system, which has kept 8 million people from falling into hunger. Yet major shortfalls remain that threaten the availability of essential assistance in the months ahead. The international community must demonstrate without delay — the political will necessary to make adequate resources available to address the needs of at-risk populations. If global leaders do not step up, the world could witness the erosion of hard-won development gains in the country.
The writer is president and C.E.O. of World Food Program USA.
To the Editor:
With all due respect, Mr. de Waal is not asking the right question, and he is doing the people of Ethiopia a great disservice.
I have just returned from Denan, Ethiopia, home to a camp for internally displaced persons. In the Denan camp, despite promises by international aid organizations, food relief had not been delivered in nearly seven months. Many people are lucky to be able to give one meager meal per day to their children. Some get less than that. Perhaps the images are not as shocking as those from the 1980s, but seeing a woman hold a malnourished child who is too weak to walk is an image that will stay with me for a long time.
It may be that due to somewhat better infrastructure and an improved political situation that the numbers of great starvation and death are not what they once were. But this is irrelevant to the families who are still watching their children suffer.
The ultimate goal of The Denan Project, of which I’m the president and co-founder, is to help impoverished communities become self-sustainable. But when feeding one’s children becomes a daily struggle, when hunger pains do not lessen, it is not possible to focus on anything else — least of all the semantics of labeling their unspeakable suffering a “great famine” or not.

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