Blog By Kent Bush
It is impossible to visit Ethiopia and not notice the disparity.
In Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, people in Land Rovers on their way to nice restaurants drive past beggars hoping simply to collect enough money to have one meal that day. In the outlying areas of the country, people struggle as subsistence farmers and any change in weather patterns can cost thousands of people their lives.
Recent news from Addis Ababa paints that picture in even more detail.
In one report from CNN, Dr. Eleni Gabre-Mahdin explains how Ethiopia is a leader in Africa, having designed and implemented a commodity trading system.
“We have shown that it is possible in a country with a weak infrastructure and weak financial institutions,” Gabre-Mahdin said. “We still put together a trading system that works.”
The hope in establishing the commodity trading exchange is to change the way people farm in order to better supply food for marginalized citizens while maximizing profits.
“We have brought together skills and a sense that something can be done,” Gabre-Mahdin said.
The government of Ethiopia been forced to freeze food prices for some commodities because of soaring inflation. In February, the consumer price index jumped 16 percent over the prior year. It jumped 25 percent over last March.
Fuel prices lead this charge –– up 14 percent –– but when the government locked in the food prices, it created shortages throughout the country.
This has led to many hungry Ethiopians.
Two months ago, it was estimated that almost 2.8 million people were facing malnourishment because of a compromised ability to find food. That number grew to 3.2 million last month. If the drought and inflation continue to worsen, that number will skyrocket as the summer sun grows warmer.
But food is not all impoverished Ethiopians are hungry for. They are starving for information, as well. Another story this weekend featured a man who makes about 75 cents per day renting newspapers to people on the street.
People will pay him about 1.5 American cents for the chance to read a newspaper for 30 minutes. Typically, they catch the headlines the help wanted ads and give the newspaper back. When so many people can’t afford to buy a newspaper that renting newspapers becomes profitable to an information landlord, poverty is a very real problem.
Ethiopia is home to one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. But this rising tide isn’t lifting all ships. The upper classes grow richer and richer. The poor are being swallowed up by the rising tide.
Some of the orphanages my wife and I visited just a couple of months ago have seen a 55 percent increase in occupancy. They were overcrowded before. Now they are overflowing. As the wealthy blossom, the poor wither away.
The United States is the No. 1 donor of food aid worldwide. Ethiopia has benefited from more than $58 million of that aid in the first quarter of 2011. More will be needed to avert a crisis and keep Ethiopia from becoming the latest African nation to become embroiled in conflict when citizens seek a regime change.