The Challenges of Drought

Ethiopia and its people struggle with food insecurity and recurring drought. What are the pathways to overcome these challenges? Access to land, the establishment of justice, the creation of cooperatives, agricultural input distribution, farmer training, environmental rehabilitation, irrigation infrastructure, building institutional capacity, creating effective governmental structures. These are components of the narrative we hear in 2019. One might think that over the decades we have used evidence to arrive at the right decisions. Interestingly, this list of actions for the pathway forward were penned in 1985 by the military government, as outlined in "The Challenges of Drought: Ethiopia's Decade of Struggle in Relief and Rehabilitation" (1985) published by the Relief & Rehabilitation Commission (a governmental agency). In addition to raising many questions about the potential impact of implementing the same policies and initiatives more than three decades later, the book also is a unique source of information on the 1972-74 famine and the responses the military government (largely known as the Derg) took from 1975 to 1985.

Some interesting reflections:

Little seems to have changed in some regards, in what could be the preamble to an NGO proposal today, the RRC states: "Having done so much to rescue so many people from starvation and death, the international community would be taking a logical step forward if it now helped to provide those inputs that are needed to bring an end to dependence on foreign assistance. There is at present a very good opportunity to enable people in the drought-prone areas to break out of their cycle of dependence and to start leading self-sufficient productive lives." (p. 13-14)

Similarly, the heavy-handed state action, often imposing on its people: "In February 1985 a law was enacted whereby all nationals will contribute one month's wages out of their annual earnings to help the victims of famine." (p. 14). So-called "voluntary" contributions were also done in recent years to help pay for the cost of building what could be Africa's largest hydroelectric dam.

A similar situation would result in the downfall of the government that made this claim: "Historians of the future may well see the drought of 1972-74 as the sorrowful setting from which a new society began to emerge. That drought was the catalyst that crystalized a nationwide anger, a defiant feeling that enough was enough, that henceforth the people's own needs would decide the framework for economic development. This anger also revealed that the subjective conditions were at last present for a modern society. By welcoming the overthrow of the self-seeking monarchy, the people at large had given their consent for the restructuring of social relations along more liberal and productive lines." (p. 106)

Yet another recurring theme: "There is no pleasure to be derived from pointing out that, despite the rigours of the drought, Ethiopia's poverty has much to do with this negative attitude of Western governments. The economic pressures that bear down on our export earnings and thus reduce the agricultural inputs we can buy abroad; the deteriorating terms of trade that decrease the purchasing power of our commodities; the protectionism that makes it difficult to get our produce on to the markets; and the interest payments on our foreign debt that leave us less foreign exchange with which to modernize our agriculture – these are destructive forces beyond our control but which the international community certainly could alter in our interests if it so desired. In this sense, Ethiopia's predicament is in part the direct result of the unfair nature of relations between the industrialized world and the developing countries." (p. 228) 

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