Last year, 20 years after the famine which killed one million people and inspired Bob Geldof to organise the Live Aid concerts, the World Food Programme declared 13 million Ethiopians to be in danger of starvation. This year, mainly because the rains have been a little kinder, the situation has improved, but still some seven million people are close to starvation.
For many years donors and aid organisations have helped sustain Ethiopians in times of drought and the Ethiopian government has come under pressure to devise a long-term solution to their dependence on international aid.
Two years ago, despite the overwhelming evidence that such schemes simply do not work, the Ethiopian government, with $200 million from international aid donors, hit upon the idea of moving two million peasant farmers and their families from arid regions in the east of the country to more fertile regions in the west.
Far from receiving the assistance they were promised, however, many of the participants in this ostensibly voluntary scheme found they were left more or less to their own devices in a region they did not know and which was rife with malaria. Their presence was resented by the natives of the region and, for many, life became even more intolerable.
As a result many participants in the scheme came to the conclusion that their only chance of survival was to return to their former homes, which often entailed a walk of up to 500 miles. Many perished in attempting this journey.
This resettlement programme has been criticised by the World Bank, the UN and other humanitarian agencies because, rather than combating famine, it has heightened the humanitarian crisis in many areas.
Earlier this year World Bank investigators found “moderate to severe malnutrition” in most areas of resettlement and in Oromia they found “severe malnutrition” in nine out of the 19 resettlement sites.
The Ethiopian government is incapable of organising such a resettlement programme, but rather than admit failure, they seem hell-bent on persisting with this madcap plan no matter what the cost in terms of human suffering.
This surely is proof that donors ought to be more careful about which projects they support. Instead of alleviating suffering this large sum of money is adding to the problems of some of the most vulnerable and poverty stricken people in the world.
Sadly, as is so often the case with humanitarian aid, the first casualty of people’s desire to help is common sense.
PO Box 19