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Sunday, January 04, 2004

Michael Buerk returns to Ethiopia + Tony Vaux's "Concern for the person in need" ethos
Twenty years ago a news report by the BBC's Michael Buerk shocked the world's public + politicians into action by showing the devastating effects of a war + drought-induced famine on Ethiopians, who were then dying in their thousands in refugee camps, or unnoticed on their own land...

Following this news report, Bob Geldof organised a Christmas single and two Live Aid concerts, which pricked the world's conscience, and Sport Aid encouraged a further 20 million people to run for charity...

With another disasterous famine in the Horn of Africa on the horizon, Michael is about to return to Ethiopia in order to assess just how effective the action taken in 1984 was, and what long-term investment + reform is needed if the 6,000,000 Ethiopians currently reliant on overseas food aid are to have a more self-sufficient future.

Unfortunately, this goal may be just as illusive as it has ever been, with the population doubling since 1984, while farm incomes have dropped, crop yields per head have halved (due in part to a deterioration in the quality of soils) + increasingly marginal areas having been converted into deforested farmland.

The problems + solutions are complex but Earth Info recommends that anyone interested in what went wrong last time around, and some of the structural problems in the way the international community goes about responding to such emergencies, should read the The Selfish Altruist by Tony Vaux (who was Oxfam's emergency relief co-ordinator during the 1984 famine).

Tony's seven principles for humanitarian work are simple, but profound, and based on a pre-eminent concern for the person in need, rather than the self interest of the organisation endeavouring to offer assistance.

Unfortunately, good intentions can all too often be compromised due to the cultural baggage of donors + aid workers and the competitive, publicity-seeking, government-sponsored + bullying pressures of modern humanitarian aid work.