As the Ethiopian government issues an emergency appeal for food aid, international aid agency Oxfam is calling for a radical shake up in the way the world deals with food crises in Ethiopia and other countries.
In its Band Aids and Beyond report released today to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the worst famine in Ethiopia’s history, Oxfam said there has been a “knee-jerk reaction” to addressing food crises dominated by sending food aid which fails to offer long-term solutions to hunger.
Whilst the agency recognises that sending food aid is important and saves lives, Oxfam believes the dominance of this approach fails to offer long term solutions which would break these cyclical and chronic crisis.
Oxfam says international donors need to adopt a new approach to humanitarian disasters which focuses on preparing to prevent and deal with disasters such as drought before they strike, rather than relying mainly on short-term emergency relief such as imported food aid.
The 1984 famine in Ethiopia saw one million people die and millions more suffer from extreme hunger and malnutrition. Today, millions of people in Ethiopia and across East Africa still face severe food and water shortages.
Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said a key cause of the ongoing hunger is droughts which cost Ethiopia $1.1 billion each year, and are not being properly addressed by the donor community.
“Food aid offers temporary relief and has kept people alive in countless situations but does not tackle the underlying causes that continue to make people vulnerable to disaster year-after-year.”
“Of course we cannot make the rains come, but donors can help break the cycle of drought driven disaster in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa by giving communities the tools they need to tackle disasters before they strike.”
“Drought does not need to mean hunger and destitution. If communities have irrigation for crops, grain stores, and wells to harvest rains, then they can survive despite what the elements throw at them,” Mr Hewett said.
Currently, 70 per cent of humanitarian aid to Ethiopia comes from the United States and of that, since 1991, 94 per cent has been in the form of food aid.
Almost all of that aid has been sourced from within the USA rather than purchased in Ethiopia or regionally, and has therefore seen a high proportion of costs applied to transport and packaging. It can cost up to $US2 to deliver $US1 of food aid.
In Band Aids and Beyond, Oxfam argues that donors must increase support for programmes such as early warning systems, creating strategically positioned stockpiles of food, medicine and other items and proper irrigation.
For example, in Somali region Oxfam is building protected wells to allow communities to ‘harvest’ rain during the rainy season, however these types of programmes receive just 0.14 per cent of overseas aid.
Ethiopia currently faces ever-greater threats from climate change, with scientists predicting that in another 25 years droughts will hit the region three years out of every four, which Mr Hewett said will push more people into poverty.
“Ethiopians on the frontline of climate change cannot wait another 25 years for common sense to become common practice.”
Notes to editors:
Further examples disaster risk management programmes include:
- Building birkhads, or protected wells, to enable communities can ‘harvest’ rain during the rainy season to make sure there is more water available nearby when the rains stop. Oxfam is doing work like this in the Somali region of Ethiopia.
- Food or cash for work programmes, for example in the midst of food shortages in the Tigray region, people received food for work on an irrigation project, as a result of this the community can rely on a more regular supply of water for their crops.
- Micro-insurance schemes that pay out to farmers if their crops fail, meaning that they have money to buy food. Oxfam is running a scheme like this for 200 households in Tigray.
For a copy of the report ‘Band Aids and Beyond’ go to: http://www.oxfam.org.au/resources/filestore/originals/OAus-BandAidsandBeyond-1009.pdf
Andrew Hewett, and Oxfam staff currently in Ethiopia, are available for interview. To interview them, or for more information, contact John Lindsay on 03 9289 9413 or 0425 701 801.