NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 27, 2008

Hunger has swept East Africa this year, spurred by poor rains and rising food prices.  The United Nations estimates that in Ethiopia, 4.6 million people are at risk, and 75,000 children have severe acute malnutrition.

Nearly a quarter-century ago, an outright famine led to Live Aid, an international fund-raising effort promoted by rock stars, which produced an outpouring of global generosity: millions of tons of food flooded into the country.  Yet, ironically, that very generosity may have contributed to today's crisis, says Time magazine:

  • Over time, sustained food aid creates dependence on handouts and shifts focus away from improving agricultural practices to increase local food supplies.
  • This year the United States will give more than $800 million to Ethiopia: $460 million for food, $350 million for HIV/AIDS treatment -- and just $7 million for agricultural development.
  • Western governments are loath to halt programs that create a market for their farm surpluses, but for countries receiving their charity, food aid can become addictive.
  • Ethiopian farmers cannot compete with free food, so they stop trying and end up using their resources elsewhere -- Ethiopia has one of Africa's largest armies.

In 2005, as an attempt to distance themselves from aid, Ethiopia created a $1.4 billion five-year program that identified 7.3 million Ethiopians unable to live without free food and gave them jobs in rural projects, such as roads and irrigation. The idea was to create livelihoods as well as to save lives, and it was working, slowly.  Then came the double blow of drought and soaring food prices, and of the 7.3 million, 5.4 million suddenly needed extra food aid.

The sobering lesson: even the best efforts to eliminate hunger are expensive, slow and uncertain of success.  Depressing as it may be, this may not be the last time Ethiopia needs helps, predicts Time.

Source: Alex Perry, "Pain amid Plenty," Time, August 6, 2008.

For text:,9171,1829841,00.html 


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