The green highlands of West Badawacho in south-west Ethiopia are not a place where you would expect to find hunger. The land is fertile and lush. Rain falls on fields covered with waist-high maize and red flowers dot the tree-lined tracks leading deep into rural farming land.
But West Badawacho is in the grip of the worst “green famine” it has experienced in decades and severe malnutrition can be found in many of the villages dotted among these fields. Here, and across Ethiopia, drought, high population density, successive failed rains and rapidly rising food prices are dovetailing to create a crisis. Ethiopia is bearing the brunt of the food shortages currently sweeping across east Africa threatening the lives of millions.
In June the government said 4.6 million people in drought-affected parts of the country required £162.5m of assistance, but unofficial estimates from donor agencies following recent nationwide assessments put the figure closer to 8-10 million people.
In West Badawacho, the lushness of the land masks a near total crop failure across the district. More than 90% of the people here are smallholder farmers, surviving on twice-yearly harvests of maize and root crops. For them the poor harvests of 2007 and the repeated failure of the crucial March-May rains have spelled disaster.
This article was first published in The Guardian in August 2008. Click here to read it in full.
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