When the annual rains dropped off in 1980-81, Ethiopia was still recovering from the 1973-74 famine that triggered the overthrow of Haile Selassie’s imperial regime. The current famine is essentially a consequence of the unresolved armed conflicts that have afflicted much of Ethiopia’s cultivable territory since 1974. By the early 1980s, large numbers of people in central Eritrea, Tigray, Welo, and parts of Gonder and Shewa were beginning to feel the effects of renewed famine. In late 1985, another year of drought was forecast, and by early 1986 the famine had spread to parts of the southern highlands, with an estimated 5.8 million people dependent on relief food and up to 1 million people believe to die.
In Ethiopia, drought and war have forced huge numbers of peasants to sell off their animals and tools and abandon the land on which they depend.
Boricha, the Ethiopian Highlands, 2003
In the searing heat of late spring, before anyone realized that what was happening here was just the beginning of something much bigger, a tiny girl stumbled through a field of rocks toward a group of international aid workers. She was barefoot and limping. Flies dotted her face, craving the moisture of her eyes, lips, and nostrils. A shabby gray dress smudged with dirt hung limply from her shoulders. Though she was no more than eight years old, she carried her baby sister on her back, a turquoise blanket binding them together. Without speaking, for that would have required too much energy, the girl weakly stretched out her arms, one hand supporting the other. Her dark, frightened eyes were desperate. Please, they beseeched, something to eat, anything at all. In a famine, the starving speak with their eyes.
Beyond the girl, on the edge of the rocky field, was a warren of olive-green tents. Inside them, 166 children were dying of starvation.
Emmanuel Otoro, the director of Ethiopia’s Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission for the Boricha region, gently stroked the girl’s cheek. A second of comfort was all he could spare. Then he parted the flaps of one of the tents and entered a scene nearly incomprehensible to the modern mind.
professor do we still have the famine in Ethiopia if not how can we curse and blame a woman like gail smith who was at the forefront of saving millions of Ethiopians lives from famine. the headline by the likes of wash post and time magazine today reads “Ethiopia turning corner”…