1984 - 1985 Ethiopian Famine
The 1984 - 1985 famine in Ethiopia was a significant famine in the history of Ethiopia. Drought and political instability contributed to the severity of the famine, which is estimated to have killed over one million people. Media activity in the West lead to Live Aid which raised the international profile of the famine and helped secure international aid.
The economy of Ethiopia is based on agriculture: 90% of exports, and 80% of total employment come from agriculture. Much of Ethiopia's agriculture sector produces coffee for export; it is estimated that more than 15 million people (25% of the population) derive their livelihood from the coffee sector. The government of Ethiopia relies on the foreign exchange generated by exports to service foreign debts, much of which was generated buying military equipment.
Following the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, the Derg chose to continue fighting insurgents in Eritrea. By 1976 insurgencies existed in all of the country's fourteen administrative regions.
Ethiopia had previously suffered major drought and famine during the early 1970s. The late 1970s again brought signs of intensifying drought. By the early 1980s, large numbers of people in central Eritrea, Tigray, Wollo, and parts of Begemder and Shewa were beginning to feel the effects of renewed famine.
A major blow to Ethiopia's economy was contributed by the United States in its efforts to thwart Soviet activity in the region. By 1980, All of Ethiopia's sea ports were taken by US-backed Eritrean independence fighters. This crippled the country's economy further and contributed to the governments ineptitude to handle the crisis to come.
By mid-1984 it was evident that another drought and resulting famine of major proportions had begun to affect large parts of northern Ethiopia. Just as evident was the government's inability to provide relief. The almost total failure of crops in the north was compounded by fighting in and around Eritrea, which hindered the passage of relief supplies. Although international relief organizations made a major effort to provide food to the affected areas, the persistence of drought and poor security conditions in the north resulted in continuing need as well as hazards for famine relief workers. 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. Exacerbating the problem in 1986 were locust plagues.
Close to 8 million people became famine victims during the drought of 1984, and over 1 million died. In the same year, a CBC news crew was the first to document the famine. The report shocked Canada, motivating its citizens to bring world attention to the crisis in Ethiopia. Live Aid, a 1985 fund-raising effort headed by Bob Geldof, induced millions of people in the West to donate money and to urge their governments to participate in the relief effort.
The Ethiopian government's inability or unwillingness to deal with the 1984-85 famine provoked universal condemnation by the international community. Even many supporters of the Ethiopian regime opposed its policy of withholding food shipments to rebel areas. The combined effects of famine and internal war had by then put the nation's economy into a state of collapse.
The primary government response to the drought and famine was the decision to uproot large numbers of peasants who lived in the affected areas in the north and to resettle them in the southern part of the country. In 1985 and 1986, about 600,000 people were moved, many forcibly, from their home villages and farms by the military and transported to various regions in the south. Many peasants fled rather than allow themselves to be resettled; many of those who were resettled sought later to return to their native regions. Several human rights organizations claimed that tens of thousands of peasants died as a result of forced resettlement.
Another government plan involved villagization, which was a response not only to the famine but also to the poor security situation. Beginning in 1985, peasants were forced to move their homesteads into planned villages, which were clustered around water, schools, medical services, and utility supply points to facilitate distribution of those services. Many peasants fled rather than acquiesce in relocation, which in general proved highly unpopular. Additionally, the government in most cases failed to provide the promised services. Far from benefiting agricultural productivity, the program caused a decline in food production. Although temporarily suspended in 1986, villagization was subsequently resumed.
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