By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
I. The failed ethnic politics has worsened
Ethiopians always seem to be losing track of the killer droughts, even if with each onset it is more severe and widespread in terms of places and the lives of citizens destroyed with their increasingly shorter frequencies than neighboring countries, such as Kenya and Somalia.
For instance, how many Ethiopians would recall that 2009 was another equally leaner season for the country, until we were told it was succeeded by the 2011 drought? They say, 2009 was the second driest year nationally, surpassed only by the catastrophic 1984 drought.
In a manner that imitates the present, on 15 August 2009 Time magazine reported:
“As Ethiopia remains caught in a deadly cycle of drought and famine, aid agencies warn that erratic rainfall and ever-rising food costs are compounding the problems carried over from last year’s drought to leave 6.2 million people in need of food assistance, on top of the 7.5 million already getting aid from the government…Close to 14 million Ethiopians — 20% of the country’s total population — now have difficulty finding enough to eat, including, according to UNICEF, 62,000 children under five in the worst-affected areas who received treatment for severe acute malnutrition during the first half of 2009. And that number is set to rise. “There are growing concerns about the impact of relief food shortfalls on already vulnerable children,” UNICEF said on Aug. 6.”
Note that, less than two years later came the severest 2011 drought; and as usual the media, the international humanitarian community and even Ethiopians – as the affected population – once again chose to seek convenience in comparisons and dubbed it as the most severe ever and said the same thing, i.e., June 2011 has been the driest in 60 years in some regions of Somalia, northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia (USAID/FEWS 2011, cited in Vieste et.al: Recent Drought and Precipitation Tendencies in Ethiopia).
This rather is a reflection of the failed national politics and policies. It would have made more sense for the nation’s leaders to show leadership in the search for lasting solutions. Instead, they have exhibited their paralysis at all times, even when Ethiopians known that drought would henceforth come with shorter frequencies than before.
It sounds, as if its occurrences are ordained by natural law, especially when one notes that only since the beginning of the present millennium, therefore, Ethiopia has witnessed several droughts and famines in the course of the past decade and a half: 1999-2000 (southern lowlands), 2002-2003 (moderate to severe drought persisted in most of the highlands and the Central Rift Valley from June–July 2002 through July 2003), 2008-2011 (severe drought in southern Ethiopia in 2010–2011, with the 2009 drought considered the driest year during 1972–2010), according to the extensive study by Ellen Viste et.al.
The study confirms, “In a gauge-based precipitation data set for 14 Ethiopian rainfall zones during 1971–2011 … there has been a general decline in precipitation during this period.”
Come the spring of 2015, Ethiopia has once again lurched into another severe drought, predicted to be a prolonged one with the likelihood of the onset of severe famine. It thus goes without saying that this is a familiar situation of deprivation in a continuum, without the nation’s policies and citizens’ showing willingness to combat the dragon that has become a set identity of our country.
The yet un-sinking lesson keeps on bringing with it the fact that, with each drought occurrence, beyond losses of lives there is the accelerated loss of capacities. It means that with every drought situation, in conservative estimates, about a good tenth of affected families lose their assets – cows, oxen, goats, etc. – built over several years. For the lucky ones, the rebuilding of which takes several years.
This has been affirmed by the clear experiences of the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), which came into existence in 2006. Each PSNP has five-year graduation cycle of the chronically food insecure that are merely in a second thought seem to be prepared for at least two drought periods to smite them while already they are under the support of the internationally-designed and financed coping mechanism, for which the contribution of Ethiopia is around one percent of its projects annual program and operational costs.
That is one major factor efficacy of the program, also on the field inhibiting productivity and production growth, much as it is also a problem of political and policy paralysis and lack of accountability in the country. The general situation tempts cynicism of even a considerate mind that stereotypically is compelled to assume that Ethiopians must always exert all their efforts to run fast only to remain in the same place, caught as they are between subsistence and an uncertain existence.
By now in Ethiopia, this has become a serious national problem. In a 1994 publication, IFPRI‘s Patrick Webb and Joachim von Braun rightly observed:
“Despite its semblance of calm, Ethiopia, like much of Africa, has little more than limped through tot 21st century under a heavy burden of human and economic problems. These burdens include continuing misery among millions of households, characterized by high level of malnutrition and food insecurity, crippling debts (accumulated at both national and household levels), a natural resource base facing severe degradation, and rates of population growth still exceeding real economic growth…The international finance community became willing, for the first time in 20 years, to invest development capital in the country as well as supporting a “social safety net” for softening the blow of macroeconomic adjustment.”
In spite of the assistance received, with famine being a development issue, the authors argued twenty years ago that the desired results would not be attained in the foreseeable future for one of the two reasons at present. That factor relates to the drought-decimated capacities of vulnerable rural households, which saps out their ability to be competitors in the marketplace.
Unfortunately, in Ethiopia the drought problems has not found the appropriate response, despite the TPLF regime having poured in huge resources on wrong policies under the guise of rural capacity development.
As a matter of fact, another manifestation of that problem is that since last spring, the regime has made itself spectacle once again trying to hide behind El Niño, as cause for the loss of precipitation and thus the drought, when it ought to act with decisiveness to implement dual track measures: implementation of measures to save both human and animal lives one side and also proven preventive measures against drought and famine on the other.
Still, while not proposing concrete preventative measures, only last week the deputy prime minister somewhat appeared to break rank to debunk the view that El Niño has caused Ethiopia’s present drought problem. And yet, while seeking recognition through his admission that there is hunger and that his regime has ordered some 200 thousand quintals of food has already arrived at Djibouti port. His so saying has given the impression that his information would stop the victim’s hunger; he thus was one of them, like others, hurriedly leaving the media scene without proposing any concrete policy measures.
As far as the present is concerned, as a former international civil servant presently in retirement, I must congratulate the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) for the leadership it has shown in this devastating situation, especially at a time when international humanitarian resources are thinly spread. OCHA has ably shouldered its responsibilities by not allowing TPLF politics to submerge information on the actual drought situation, its consequences and the needs thereon from perspective of the affected populations.
Because of this, the United Nations has managed to designate already by May 2015, at least, 348 districts – nearly half the country’s administrative districts – as hotspot priority areas of humanitarian operations. Of these, 97 of them are in Priority I category, distributed as follows: 41 in Oromia, 15 in Somali, 13 in Amhara, 13 Afar, 7 in Tigray, 6 in SNNPR, and 2 in Gambella). The remaining 191 districts are Priority II and the remaining 60 of them in Priority III category “reasonably open” for international assistance operations.
As far as regime actions are concerned, let me reiterate that nothing would change in Ethiopia, unless there is commitment to seek solutions in keeping with the teachings of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, who – with proven expertise acquired through the experiences of his native India – has often underlined, “famines tend not to occur at all when there is a functioning democracy”.
With the situation continuing to evolve in Ethiopia in such a manner, the country is not allowed to take appropriate action to break the cycle of drought and famine that remains major cause of deprivation, wasting through poverty and eventually responsible for death of many by famine and hunger.
In May 2015, the TPLF set the future course of the country with a sharp turn to the right. This has necessitated abandonment of the seemingly competitive politics that has resulted the country becoming single-party state, which in turn state monopoly of the economy and politics by the national security apparatus and domination by single ethnic group of limiting the national security to exclusively become privilege of the TPLF. This has resulted in a failed policy of exclusionary politics hampering growth and development.
As to the Ethiopian dilemma, a nation that has fallen victim to repressive and duplicitous politics, as discussed above, 2009 by coincidence, was a season of drought, about which the response of the regime surprised The Economist of August 13th 2009. It wrote that at the suggestion of famine “Mr Meles narrows his eyes and growls, that is a lie an absolute lie.” It further adds, he often used to say:
“There is more than enough food in government warehouses to feed the people, he says. But others say stockpiled grain has already been earmarked for handing out to people in the towns. The UN and foreign charities are predicting a large-scale famine in Tigray, Mr Meles’s home region, by November. At least 6m people may need food handouts unless more supplies can be found locally.”
The ban is not any different today, because of the man that runs the nation from six feet underground.
This duplicitous nature of the TPLF regime is so intriguing that, only a week ago it instructed aid and caregiving international non-governmental organizations operating in the country not to give out information on any drought-related deaths to anyone, especially journalists.
Therefore, coming against the backdrop of the bad state of affairs in the country in every sense – whose typical manifestations are repression, fast growing inequality and lack/denial of justice, drought and famine – have become the continuing irritants for citizens of this unfortunate country.
………..to be continued