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Postcard from the field: Ethiopia

25 years on from Live Aid, DFID's Jo Raisin looks at the progress the country has made and the challenges that remain

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Jo Raisin - postcard from the fieldJo Raisin, humanitarian adviser for DFID, has worked in Ethiopia for a decade. Here she looks at the progress the country has made - and the challenges that remain - 25 years on from Live Aid.

In 1984, Ethiopia’s military regime stood in splendour in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa to celebrate the tenth anniversary since the fall of the Emperor. As the world looked on at the $10 million celebrations, tanks were positioned on all the roads out of Addis to stop tens of thousands of starving Ethiopians from entering the city.

About 800 km north, Michael Buerk was reporting from Korem, revealing the suffering of millions of people facing acute starvation. His film captured the attention of the world and inspired the unprecedented public response captured in ‘Live Aid’. While millions of lives were finally saved by the generosity of the public, around a million are estimated to have died and many millions more lost their livelihoods, becoming dependent on food aid.

Live Aid - 25 years on

Twenty-five years on, the challenge of hunger in Ethiopia is still great. The population has almost doubled to 80 million since the height of the famine in the mid 1980s. Hunger is widespread. Around 16 million Ethiopians still lack access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food in any one year - whether or not there is a drought. Many more people are vulnerable to the smallest shifts in prices or weather conditions because the difference between the poorest quarter and the richest quarter of the population is just $8 a month - the equivalent of two chickens bought in the local market.

But against this backdrop, there is hope. The situation today is very different from twenty five years ago. Thanks to the efforts of the government of Ethiopia and support from nine international donors - including Britain - Ethiopian people are being helped to help themselves through Africa’s largest safety net programme.

The Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) supports nearly 8 million people who cannot meet their food needs whatever the weather. In many cases, they are the same people who had to sell their oxen and livestock in the 1980s, and have been unable to get back on the ladder of productivity since.

As well as protecting livelihoods, the programme helps to build communities - giving people guaranteed cash and sometimes food in exchange for their participation in public works schemes that build vital infrastructure like roads and classrooms.

This all costs half as much as it would to provide humanitarian relief, and helps to prevent that becoming necessary. Of course, the safety net does not have all the answers but it’s a good start. And after ten years of working on famine prevention and food insecurity in Ethiopia, I am cautiously optimistic that we have taken a big step on the right track to tackle hunger. The next challenge is to ensure we reach more people and enable them to access the goods and services that will help them move beyond the safety net and grow their own businesses.

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Published 13 July 2010