Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Glimpse of the Creeping Famine in Ethiopia

By Alemayehu G. Mariam | February 12, 2014
[Ethiopia] is the face of the world food crises. In a village in Southern Ethiopia, mothers cue with their malnourished children for emergency rations of food. They can’t afford to feed their babies and now it seems neither can the outside world. The distended stomachs, a symptom of the hunger so many here are suffering after two poor harvests in a row, and there are more new cases everyday… They were given food rations ten days ago… The government reserves ran out long ago, and now the U.N. supply is thinning too. They were given food rations 10 days ago… These people get a monthly handout; July’s [2013] was cut by a third. The rising price of grain worldwide means an extra one hundred million pounds need to be raised just to keep this up… 400 miles north near the Somali border, we found a changed landscape but the same crises and the rains are late here too and half the population needs food aid… They have been given a stark option [by regime representative Omar Abdi] ‘I have two options for them: to die or do the land.’ But across this country just now outside help is keeping millions alive. Malnutrition figures continue to rise and show no signs of slowing. This global food crises may be raising food bills in the West but the people here [in Ethiopia] are paying a far higher price.
Rang the alarm bell on the looming famine
In October 2012, I rang the alarm bell in my commentary “Ethiopia: An Early Warning of a Famine in 2013”. I claim no special knowledge or expertise in the economics of famine. However, by carefully piecing data, analyses and findings from various sources including the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), Oxfam, the U.N. World Food Programme, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and reports of the New England Complex Systems Institute, [NECSI] (a group of academics from Harvard and MIT who specialize in predicting how changes in environment can lead to political instability and upheavals), it became clear to me that 2013 was likely to be the threshold year for the onset of famine or “catastrophic food crises”, as they euphemistically call it, in Ethiopia.
By late 2012, there was general consensus that reductions in the exports of grains from producing countries could trigger increased prices on the global commodities markets in 2013. I demanded to know how the “government of PM Hailemariam Desalegn expected to deal with the effects of the inevitable global food crises in light of its depleted foreign reserves and how his government will avert potentially catastrophic famine in the country.” I warned, “Planning to panhandle more emergency food aid simply won’t cut it. Relying on ‘Productive Safety Nets Programmes’ simply won’t do it. If the government of PM Hailemariam Desalegn cannot come up with a better answer or alternative to the looming famine over the horizon, it should be prepared to face not only a hungry population but also an angry one!”
For the past year, neither Hailemariam nor his puppet masters have done anything demonstrably constructive to deal with the “looming famine”. As usual, they are sitting around twiddling their thumbs and swatting flies waiting for American taxpayers to bail them out for the umpteenth time. There is a joke going around about the time Hailemariam was asked if he was worried about the poor rains and looming famine in Ethiopia. “We are not worried about the rains in Ethiopia; we are worried about the rains in America and Canada.” In February 2014, Hailemariam and Co. are polishing off their begging bowls to make a beeline to the U.S. and Canadian embassies to do their annual panhandling rounds.
In 2011, when Hailemariam was a “foreign and deputy prime minster” he was cocksure that his regime could lick famine and take a big bite out of poverty in no time. In an interview with Africa Confidential, Hailemariam boasted, “For the last seven years, Ethiopia has witnessed double digit growth and this is a sign that our economic policy is working very well. If we continue this pace of development, we can double our economy in the next five years. This means that we will double our income for our community and so we will reduce poverty by 50%.” Hailemariam’s predecessor, the late imperious Meles Zenawi, “in his first press conference in Addis Ababa [over two decades ago], in reply to a question about his goals, declared that he would consider his government a success if Ethiopians were able to eat three meals a day.” (See video here.) In 2011, Meles pompously declared, “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.”
“Three meals a day” in 2014 is pie in the sky for the vast majority of Ethiopians; and there is no chance that Ethiopia will feed itself “without the need for food aid” by 2015 as Meles “devised”. In fact, Ethiopia today is 123 out of 125 worst fed countries in the world. According to a new Oxfam food database “while the Netherlands ranks number one in the world for having the most plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable diet, Chad is last on 125th behind Ethiopia and Angola.”
The tragic irony is that as millions of Ethiopians starve, Saudi Arabian, Indian agribusinesses commercially farm Ethiopia’s most fertile lands to export food to their countries and China stealthily implements its plans for the penetration of Ethiopia’s agricultural sector. What a doggone crying shame! So much for “double digit growth”, “doubling the economy”, “surplus production” and “three meals a day”!
Uncovering the hidden famine in Ethiopia
Over the past few years, I have written over a dozen commentaries specifically on famine in Ethiopia or other related matters (see footnote in link). I have railed time and again against official secrecy in keeping famine stricken areas off limits to international and local journalists as tens of thousands die or suffer excruciating physical pain from food deprivation. The Meles/Hailemariam regimes have followed their predecessors lockstep in keeping famines secret. H.I.M. Haile Selassie in 1974 pretended there was no famine until the documentary the “Hidden Hunger” by Jonathan Dimbleby was aired provoking shock and anger among Ethiopians. Former junta leader Mengistu Hailemariam was arrogantly dismissive during the 1984-85 famine. He casually asked, “What famine?” Meles, Hailemariam and those behind Hailemariam’s wooden throne today are far more cunning. Their solution is 1) to clampdown on the local press and shut the country down to all foreign journalists and media representatives who are interested in reporting on the impending humanitarian disaster, and 2) stand outside Western embassies with their shiny begging bowls.
It is interesting to note that the imperial government, the Derg junta and the current regime, like Nero who played his violin as Rome burned, continued their extravagant lifestyles as millions of Ethiopians starved. In 1974, before the overthrow of H.I.M. Haile Selassie, the Derg televised documentaries showing the excesses of the royal family as they fed their pets expensive morsels of meat and enjoying supposedly fancy imported cakes from Europe while tens of thousands died from famine in the northern part of the country. In 1984, on the tenth anniversary of the Derg’s seizure of power, the haughty soldiers let the champagne and whiskey flow like a river stream. Tens of thousands also died in the great famine of 1984.
In 2014, the situation is far worse. Those in power, their relatives, cronies, partners and cadres are spending tens of thousands of dollars on exclusive designer clothes, shoes, handbags and perfumes, hundreds of thousands of dollars on fancy cars and sports utility vehicles and living in multi-million dollar mansions furnished with the most expensive European furniture and kitchen appliances. They are stashing billions of dollars in foreign banks and secret investment schemes as documented in a report of Global Financial Integrity. In 2014, millions of Ethiopians are doomed to famine. Such is the sad but true story of Ethiopia today. By intimidating the press, the regime in power in Ethiopia has managed to maintain a complete news blackout on Ethiopia’s hidden famine. Thanks to the courageous Martin Geissler, ITN and NBC, we now have a glimpse of the human catastrophe that is taking shape.

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