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Drought, War, and the Politics of Famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea


During almost two decades, beginning in the early 1970s, the Horn of Africa was racked by the ravages of hunger and war. Natural disasters are not new to the region, which historically could count on at least seven major droughts each century, but in the current era they have been increasing, in part due to massive deforestation and the changing pattern of weather. It is estimated that in Ethiopia alone, because of soil erosion and deforestation, 30,000 million tons of top-soil are lost each year. A second important factor affecting the severity of famine has been the dramatic escalation in the level and intensity of civil conflict, nowhere more evident than in Ethiopia.

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1 Pankhurst Richard, The History of Famine and Epidemics in Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, 1985), p. 1.

2 Magistad Mary Kay, ‘On the Razor's Edge’, in Africa Report (New York), 0506 1987, p. 64.

3 Shepherd Jack, The Politics of Starvation (New York, 1975), p. 17.

4 Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, Famine: a man-made disaster? (New York, 1985).

5 Shepherd, op. cit. p. 34.

6 Ibid. pp. 26–7.

7 Ibid. p. 17.

8 Holt Julius and Seaman John, ‘The Scope of the Drought’, in Hussein Abdul Mejid (ed.), Drought and Famine in Ethiopia (London, 1976), p. 2.

9 Keller Edmond J., Revolutionary Ethiopia: from Empire to People's Republic (Bloomington, 1988), pp. 131–87.

10 Ibid. 150–5.

11 Selassie Bereket Habte, Conflict and Intervention in the Horn of Africa (New York, 1980), p. 66.

12 Evil Days — Thirty Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia: an Africa Watch report (New York, 1991), pp. 113–22.

13 Ibid. pp. 139–40.

14 Ibid. pp. 133–56, and Firebrace James and Smith Gayle, The Hidden Revolution: an analysis of social change in Tigre (London, 1982), pp. 1516.

15 Clay Jason W. and Holcomb Bonnie K., Politics and the Ethiopian Famine, 1984–85 (Cambridge, MA, 1986), p. 194.

16 Giorgis Dawit Wolde, Red Tears: war, famine and revolution in Ethiopia (Trenton, NJ, 1989), p. 107.

17 U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, 1985 (Washington, DC, 1985).

18 See Hancock Graham, Lords of Poverty: the free-wheeling lifestyles, power, prestige and corruption of the multi-billion dollar aid business (London, 1989), p. 71.

19 Kumar Gopalakrishna, Ethiopian Famines, 1973–1985: a case study (Oxford, 11 1987), United Nations University, World Institute for Development Economics Research, Wider Working Papers No. 26, p. 26.

20 See, for example, Varnis Stephen L., Reluctant Aid or Aiding the Reluctant? U.S. Food Aid Policy and Ethiopian Famine Relief (New Brunswick, NJ, 1990), p. 21.

21 Shepherd Jack, ‘Ethiopia: the use of food as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy’, in Issue: a journal of opinion (Los Angeles), 14, 1985, p. 5.

22 See Brune Stefan, ‘Agrarian Development, Famine and Foreign Aid: the Ethiopian Experience’, in Afrika Spectrum (Hamburg), 23, 3, 1988, p. 256, and Mariam A. G., ‘Socialism and Politics of Famine in Ethiopia’, in Conflict (New York), 9, 1986, pp. 109–33.

23 ‘Ethiopia Revisited’, in African Recovery (New York), 1, 0204 1987, p. 2, and Kumar, op. cit. p. 42.

24 Kumar, op. cit. pp. 31–2.

25 King Preston, An African Winter (New York, 1986), p. 37.

26 Ibid. pp. 40–1.

27 Brooke James, ‘Ethiopia's Post-Famine Goal: self-sufficiency’, in The New York Times, 10 March 1987.

28 U.S.A.I.D., ‘Situation Report—Ethiopia’, Washington, DC, 17 September 1987.

29 Holdridge David, ‘Statement’, in Famine in Ethiopia: Joint Hearing Before the Sub-Committee on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the International Task Force of the Select Committee on Hunger, U.S. House of Representatives (Washington, DC, 28 02 1990).

30 Evil Days, p. 133.

31 Keller, op. cit. pp. 255–6.

32 Wolde Giorgis, op. cit. p. 285.

33 Firebrace and Smith, op. cit. pp. 15–16.

34 Evil Days, p. 227.

35 See Jean François, Ethiopie: du bon usage de la famine (Paris, Médecins sans Frontières, 1986), p. 72.

36 Varnis, op. cit. p. 39.

37 See Evil Days, pp. 177–210; Dines Mary, ‘Ethiopian Violation of Human Rights in Eritrea’, in Cliffe Lionel and Davidson Basil (eds.), The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace (Trenton, NJ, 1988), pp. 139–61; and Kaplan Robert, Surrender or Starve: the wars behind the famine (Boulder, 1988).

38 Korn David A., Ethiopia, the United States and the Soviet Union (London and Carbondale, IL, 1986), p. 137.

39 Ottaway David, ‘U.S. Relief Program to Defy Ethiopia’, in The Washington Post, 31 May 1988. The first time the United States engaged in cross-border relief operations was in 1984–5.

40 Congressional Record: U.S. House of Representatives (Washington, DC), 7 10 1987, p. H8297, and Pateman Roy, Eritrea: even the stones are burning (Trenton, NJ, 1990), p. 192.

41 Cohen, loc. cit.

42 See Varnis, op. cit. p. 162; Pateman, op. cit. p. 195; and Dines, loc. cit. p. 153.

43 Harden Blaine, ‘Food Aid Destroyed in Ethiopia’, in The Washington Post, 26 October 1987.

44 Crocker Chester A., ‘Statement’, in Update on Recent Developments in Ethiopia: the famine crisis. Hearing before the Sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Organisations and on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives (Washington, DC, 21 04 1988), and Kifner John, ‘Eritrea: starving an end to guerrilla war’, in The San Francisco Chronicle, 31 August 1988.

45 Perlez Jane, ‘Polish Crew Tells of Three Week Ordeal After Red Sea Attack’, in The New York Times, 23 January 1990.

46 U.S. Agency for International Development, ‘Ethiopia — Drought’; Situation Report No. 7, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, Washington, DC, 28 March 1990, p. 2.

47 Samueals Gertrude, ‘Fighting Famine in North Africa’, in The New Leader (New York), 30 04 1990, p. 12, and Eritrean Relief Association, ‘Urgent Appeal’, in Adulis (London), 0203 1991.

48 See Zeiler Jean, ‘Genocide Convention — Ethiopian Famine in the Eritrean War for Independence’, in Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law (Athens, GA), 19, Fall 1989, pp. 589612.

* Professor of Political Science and Director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles.

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