Band Aids and Beyond

Tackling disasters in Ethiopia 25 years after the famine

In 1984, a famine claimed the lives of one million Ethiopians. A BBC report released on 23 October that year shocked the world and inspired the global Band Aid and Live Aid movement.

Twenty-five years later, droughts are becoming dangerously common in Ethiopia. By the 50th anniversary of the famine what we now call a drought will hit the region three years in every four.

In the emergencies caused by climatic shocks like drought and flood, ‘band-aids’ such as emergency food relief are effective at saving lives. But in the past 25 years humanitarian agencies have learned that there is a far more cost-effective and sustainable approach to these predictable, recurrent shocks: instead of waiting for disaster to strike, tackle the risk of disasters. This means helping communities prepare for disasters, prevent them, or reduce their impact on lives and livelihoods.

This approach may sound common sense, but it is far from common practice. Short-term response, especially imported food aid, still dominates.

As Birhan Woldu, a survivor of the famine, the Ethiopian face of the 2005 Live Aid concerts, and author of the foreword for this report says: "We should learn from our mistakes to ensure a better future and a country free from famine, starvation, and poverty."

Key recommendations:

To help communities in Ethiopia move beyond ‘band-aids’:

  • The Ethiopian government should strengthen the commitment behind its inclusive, co-ordinated approach to disasters that targets vulnerability and disaster risk, especially linked to climate change.
  • The Ethiopian government should also ensure that all those affected by humanitarian disasters get the right aid at the right time.
  • Donors should increase investment in building communities’ resilience to disasters and alternatives to imported food aid.
  • The World Food Program (WFP) should make their emergency food aid programs contribute more to sustainable development.