ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Nestled into the horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a country rich in many things — diversity, resources and history. However, it remains among the poorest nations in the world, with approximately 35 million of its 80 million people living in extreme poverty.
Ethiopia is one of many food-insecure African countries with an economy that depends on agriculture; though 85 percent of Ethiopians are employed in the agricultural sector, millions of them face food shortages every year due to unreliable rainfall and, occasionally, civil unrest. It’s a cruel irony, but it is reality nonetheless.
Though food insecurity in other nations can easily go overlooked by mainstream media channels, chronic hunger in Ethiopia is very often in the public eye due to a heavily publicized history of famines.
The most severe of these was the famine of 1984, in which 1 million Ethiopians died of starvation. Thirty years later, many news outlets are taking the time to reflect on the causes and effects of that tragedy.
The 30th anniversary of the 1984 famine has sparked not only an influx of news stories on hunger and poverty in Ethiopia, but an intriguing wave of reactions to these stories.
It was in response to a Guardian story describing “villagisation,” the process by which many Ethiopians were forcefully removed from their homes and relocated following a 2011 famine, that Berhanu Kebede, the Ambassador of Ethiopia, set the record straight: Ethiopia is by no means a country free from poverty and hunger, but it has made significant progress toward reducing those prevalence of those afflictions in the last 30 years.
It’s true – Ethiopia is focused on eliminating poverty, and it shows. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians now have access to clean water, health care, education and effective methods of transportation, according to the International Development Group.
It’s been a bumpy road installing schools and medical centers in a country that is relatively large and particularly culturally diverse, but there has been progress nevertheless. Ethiopia is well on its way to accomplishing all eight Millennium Development Goals, one of only a handful of countries that can make that claim.
Furthermore, Ethiopia’s economy has improved notably in the last few decades. More Ethiopians have jobs now than they did in 1984 – millions more. Fewer people go hungry even in times of food shortage. Admirably, in bringing about this change, Ethiopia has been careful to respect human rights. It is by no means a perfect country (what country is?) but this marked progress is a cause for celebration.
Kebede also points out the effectiveness of both government interventions and foreign aid in reducing poverty in Ethiopia. Though the villagisation endured by thousands of Ethiopians three years ago was allegedly funded in large part by the United Kingdom, much foreign aid has been successfully used in Ethiopia to implement targeted public health, education, and feeding programs. Ethiopia is a prime example of a government working with humanitarian organizations abroad to create lasting change for its people.
It is important to reflect on events of the past and the many lessons they have taught us, but in doing so we should not overlook what has changed in the time since. The famine of 1984 devastated a nation; in the thirty years since, however, the people of Ethiopia have committed to improving their outcomes. If that progress continues at the same steady pace, it will not be long before poverty and hunger are almost unknown in Ethiopia.
– Elise Riley