For too many families in the Horn of Africa, poverty is a daily fact of life. Recurring droughts, conflicts, and soaring food prices continue to burden many families who face hunger and chronic food shortages everyday.
Most do not have access to adequate health services, education, clean water, or housing. In addition, rapid population growth coupled with deforestation, overgrazing, and poor land management are putting a severe strain on the region's natural resources. Climate change and international market prices are other factors that constantly threaten the country's national economy.
In Ethiopia, where Oxfam America has concentrated its work, 80 percent of the people are farmers or herders who rely on their land for their livelihoods. Several factors contribute to the country's chronic food shortages leading to regular dependency on food aid. In Sudan, a conflict that erupted in Darfur in early 2003 has forced more than 2.5 million people from their homes, killed countless others, and destroyed hundreds of villages.
Oxfam America, which has been working in the Horn of Africa since the Ethiopian famine of 1984, supports more than 35 local partners that are addressing the most crucial humanitarian and development issues in the region. We are providing these organizations with both funding and help in expanding their reach. Oxfam America also advocates for better laws and policies that respect human rights, and improve and strengthen the social and economic positions of the most vulnerable farmers and herders in the region.
In Ethiopia, Oxfam works through 31 local partners focusing on water resource management, empowering coffee farmers to compete in global markets, climate change adaptation, and humanitarian response that includes helping communities find ways to reduce their risk of disaster. Giving special attention to areas prone to rapid onset disasters and inter-clan and inter-ethnic conflicts, the programs maintain a special focus on finding long-term solutions to poverty and helping communities reduce their vulnerability to drought and conflict.
In Sudan, the programs focus on providing humanitarian assistance to people in Darfur affected by the ongoing conflict. Working through eight partners, Oxfam has continued to support people in crowded camps by drilling wells, laying water lines, setting up water taps, building storage tanks, digging thousands of latrines, and offering public health education to encourage good hygiene.
In all its programs, Oxfam works to shift society and traditions to better address gender inequality. We also work through Oxfam International's HIV mainstreaming team to reduce the widespread illness and death that has a direct impact on the region's productivity.
Stumbling blocks to growth in Ethiopia
Ethiopia badly needs basic structural improvements for water management, rural markets, and roads. Consider this:
- Farmers in Ethiopia can't afford to build even simple structures to store their grain and other crops. As a result, food surpluses can't be placed in reserve to help feed at-risk populations or stabilize prices.
- The central government encourages local farmers to grow corn—which is not resistant to drought—instead of more hardy crops that Ethiopians have traditionally grown, such as sorghum and barley.
- According to the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance, more than 50 percent of Ethiopia's export revenue comes from the sale of coffee. Due to the collapse of coffee prices internationally, the government is losing twice as much as it gained in recent interim debt relief from the World Bank.
- Ethiopia currently has 2.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS—the fifth highest national rate in Africa—affecting 6.6 percent of the adult population. This disease has a direct impact on food production: widespread illness and death are reducing the capacity of families to cultivate crops and are impeding the transfer of farming knowledge across generations. HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment need immediate international attention to contain the spread of the virus.
Oxfam in the Horn of Africa
Peace building is one of Oxfam's key objectives in the Horn where war has brought misery and suffering to all of the countries in the region. The absence of a vibrant civil society and the weakening of traditional peace building mechanisms have contributed to the spread of conflicts. Their resolution has become increasingly complex.
Oxfam's experience with community efforts to resolve clashes in Ethiopia and encourage dialogue among different ethnic groups has positioned us to work on these issues in a broader context, and to apply the lessons we have learned in other parts of the Horn. For example, innovative peace councils used indigenous conflict resolution methods to halt the war between the Boren and Somali pastoral communities in southern Ethiopia.
Beyond its support for an expanded civil society and peace building, Oxfam also plays a unique role in promoting the Make Trade Fair campaign in Ethiopia. Working with five other Oxfam affiliates, Oxfam America helped organize a national coalition of allies, including coffee farmer cooperatives, government ministries, students, and well-known athletes and musicians in a campaign to amass signatures on Oxfam's Big Noise global petition.
In a matter of months, this effort produced over one million signatures from several hundred thousand coffee farmers and key government leaders such as the prime minister, deputy prime minister, and justice minister. At a trade conference in June, Oxfam even convinced Pascal Lamy, the trade commissioner of the European Union, to sign the Big Noise.
The concept of a mass campaign calling for substantive policy changes is unheard of in Ethiopia, but in a short period of time the Big Noise campaign had petitions in virtually all the coffee houses, coffee cooperatives, and schools in the country.