“New Famine Sweeps Ethiopia as Civil War Keeps Taking Its Toll,” The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 1990

Geraldine Brooks


Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world faced a new wave of famine in the late 1980’s.  This famine can be attributed to war, failed Marxist policies, and drought.  . 


For 28 years Ethiopia was involved in a Civil War.  They fought against the Eritreans, who were fighting to “reverse the forcible annexation of their lands.”  Ethiopia also is fighting against guerillas from the province of Tigre. 


Marxist policies of collectivized-farm programs were an utter failure. 


At the moment, 4 million people are at risk for starvation. 


Keeping Food Out


Hunger has been a common weapon for both sides during the civil war.  The Ethiopians, being the more dominant, have bombed crops, livestock, dams, and even reforestation projects of Eritrea.  Eritrea in one instance destroyed two convoys of food relief.   To avoid being destroyed, food and supplies can only be delivered during the night or under cloudy conditions. 


High Risk, Low Yield


Farming by the Eritrean’s must remain relatively small in order to avoid Ethiopian bombardment.  Because of Eritrea’s low output, aid is necessary. 


The U.S. officially does not provide support to the Eritrean’s however through private charities some relief does get through.  The U.S. takes this stance so as to not draw attention to the supply lines and risk their destruction. 


Another issue to consider is that the neediest might not get to those who are in dire need.  These individuals are usually in “famine-afflicted lands now under rebel control”.  So, aid donors are more than reluctant to provide trucks that could possibly be destroyed the Ethiopian bombers. 


The only solution:  peace.




Movement towards peace:


Rebel victories have brought government to peace talks mediated by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. 


A possibility that the Soviet Union (Ethiopia’s main military supplier) could scale down its support. 


German military advisers have left. 


However, there have been reports that Israel has agreed to supply arms to Ethiopia in exchange for Ethiopian Jews being allowed to immigrate to Israel.



With peace there is great potential for this area.  For example, Eritrean farmers have grown potatoes and have started to grow eucalyptus and peppercorn tress.  A dam in the area named Rora Habab provides irrigation and is used for grinding grain.  The time and labor saved by the use of damn have allowed people around the area to have time to learn to read and write. 


Gary Chang