Ethiopia’s “New” Famine

Ethiopia is enduring famine. USA Today calls it new. In fact, it’s only the most recent and severe. The images of malnourished, exhausted children and adults are, unfortunately, not new. We’ve seen them before and more importantly, Ethiopians have suffered through famines before.

This time the hunger seems more widespread and pervasive. But famine in Ethiopia in 1985 sparked a global reaction and promises to never let it happen again, a promise that was hard to keep.

Oxfam, the international aid organization, says the famine will not result in a repeat of one million deaths as in 1985, but it calls the current situation a “toxic cocktail” resulting from weather, war, inflation and assorted insect plagues. Add population growth to the mix and in the words of one nutritionist, it’s a “ticking time bomb.”

This leads to the current call to end global poverty. It’s not that this is an impossibility, it’s just that doing it will require partnerships and commitment that do not yet approach the scale and mass required.

I hear too many organizations appeal for funds as if they alone were able to effect the necessary change. And, after telling stories of famine and poverty for thirty years, it’s clear to me that no single entity is equipped to meet this challenge on it own. To acknowledge this comes as a challenge to some fundraisers who must tell the success stories of their agencies in order to attract the resources necessary to conduct their work, and to agency leaders who don’t want to acknowledge the valuable work of others. I see and hear this almost daily.

But the truth is, partnerships to achieve scale are essential. The oft-repeated ad for malaria bednets by Exxon during Olympic coverage says it clearly. The day is past when agencies can claim they can go it alone and be effective. In the global environment with its complicated and interrelated causes and effects, we will either resolve problems together or watch them become worse by trying to go it alone.

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