1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia

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The 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia was a widespread famine affecting the inhabitants of today's Eritrea and Ethiopia. Four Ethiopian provinces—Gojjam, Hararghe, Tigray, and Wollo—all received record low rainfalls in those years.[1] The effects of this low rainfall were exacerbated by lack of adequate government preparations, as well as the increasing drain on government revenues by various insurgencies. In the south, a separate and simultaneous cause was the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) insurgency.[2] In 1984, President Mengistu Haile Mariam announced that 46% of the Ethiopian Gross National Product would be allocated to military spending, creating the largest standing army in sub-Saharan Africa; meanwhile, the allocation for health in the government budget fell from 6% in 1973/1974 to 3% in 1990/1991.[3]

Although an estimated death toll of over one million from this famine is often quoted, this figure has been challenged due to "scant empirical evidence". In a major study, famine scholar Alex de Waal criticized the United Nations for being "remarkably cavalier" about the numbers of people who died, with the UN's one-million figure having "absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever," a fact which represents "a trivialization and dehumanization of human misery." Nevertheless, the magnitude has been well documented, and in addition to hundreds of thousands of famine-related deaths, millions of people became destitute.[4][5]

Media activity in the West, along with the size of the crisis, led to the "Do They Know It's Christmas?" charity single and the July 1985 concert Live Aid (raised $100m) [6], which elevated the international profile of the famine and helped secure international aid. De Waal argues that, "The humanitarian effort prolonged the war, and with it, human suffering."[7]

Contents

Background

The economy of Ethiopia is based on agriculture: almost half of GDP, 60% of exports, and 80% of total employment come from agriculture.[8]

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