Marc Cohen is Oxfam America’s senior researcher on humanitarian policy and climate change. Here’s his account of a recent visit to northern Ethiopia where famine struck a quarter century ago.
Twenty-five years ago, Michael Buerk’s dramatic BBC footage from Korem, in northern Ethiopia, brought a devastating famine to the world’s attention. Tens of thousands of people had sought refuge from war and drought in the town. Every 20 minutes, a camp resident died from hunger and related diseases. Buerk called Korem “the closest thing to hell on earth.”
Last year, I traveled to Korem while working on a research project about decentralization in Ethiopia and how that affects men and women farmers’ access to services. My colleagues and I arrived in the town just as the regional Orthodox Christian patriarch was inaugurating a large new church; hundreds of people had turned out for the colorful ceremony. This celebration was a big contrast with the grim images of 1984.
But it was a meeting with Merzeneb Firkado—her first name means “honey from heaven”—that made me realize how much has changed for people in the Korem area since that terrible period. Read the rest of this entry »