Ethiopian officials say that this failed harvest is as bad as the catastrophic droughts that befell Ethiopia in 1965-66, 1972-73 and 1984-85, killing more than 1m people in all. But a sophisticated food-security system means that poor Ethiopians these days can cope much better with drought than before.
“Many, many people died in the past. But we now have early-warning systems and programmes to mobilise grain from areas of surplus to areas of scarcity,” says Mohammed Yasin, head of Disaster Prevention and Food Security in North Wollo, a province whose name was once synonymous with famine. “We will avoid this problem without evacuating areas.”
….. The Overseas Development Institute, a British think-tank, puts much of Ethiopia’s ability to deal with drought down to its Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), Africa’s largest social-protection scheme. Set up in 2005, it puts around 6m able-bodied men and women to work for five days a month on public works, such as digging waterholes for animals or building terraces for crops. In exchange, their households and those of more than 1m less able citizens receive food or cash amounting to 13kg of cereal and 4kg of pulses a month for the leanest half of the year
As an undergrad at Yale I took several classes in which professors, TAs and fellow students would casually say things that insinuated that all of Africa (read sub-Saharan Africa) was a cross between a hospice, a giant slum and a war zone. Let’s just say that it all made me a little bit uncomfortable, and sometimes forced me to over-compensate in discussions and with papers and homework. I was particularly disappointed in my professors for not knowing any better. It probably also played a big role in my choice to pursue a career as an academic in the social sciences.
The quote below reminded me of those episodes:
Despite considerable economic growth and increasing self-confidence as a major global player, modern India is a disaster zone in which millions of lives are wrecked by hunger and by pitiable investment in health and education services. Pockets of California amid sub-Saharan Africa, sum up Sen and Drèze.
It’s one thing when an ignoramus who imagines Kenya to be a town in South Africa that does a mean giraffe barbecue says something nasty about an entire region and its people. But it’s quite another when it comes from a college professor or from people that you expect to know better.
For instance, when we say California, are we talking Palo Alto or East Palo Alto? I must add here that because it is Sen (my beloved author of The Idea of Justice), may be he meant the “median Californian experience” vs the “median African experience” as opposed to simply comparing Palo Alto with Kibera. May be.
I admire Prof. Sen. Very much. But I would like to register my disappointment over this offending line. The full article in the Guardian is actually quite illuminating regarding inequality in India.
If you ever teach a class or write a book or newspaper article or give a talk, please know that it is not kosher to use the word Africa as short hand for everything that you imagine to be wrong with this world. Always remember that part of your audience might include real flesh and blood Africans. Spare us the awkwardness. Please.