- Vulnerability to Drought Risk and Famine: Local Responses and External Interventions among the Afar of Ethiopia, a study on the Aghini Pastoral Community (2008)
- In East African countries drought-related famine has been a number one risk. Ethiopia is among those countries that are repeatedly stricken by recurrent famine. Agricultural and pastoral households have increasingly become vulnerable to famine. The successive Ethiopian governments attributed the recurring famine and hunger to natural events, particularly to droughts. However, though drought triggers famines, it does not necessarily lead to famine disaster in every context. This is the current tone of literature in disaster causation. Each famine has its own specific causes in each context and this requires exploring the causal factors thereof. This study in the Afar region, in north-east Ethiopia, attempts to explain the root causes of vulnerability to famine, and assess the local and external responses. The central argument of the research is that pastoralists’ vulnerability to famine and food crisis has increased overtime because of the complex interplay of multiple factors such as environmental or ecological degradation, socio-economic destabilization, and political processes. It is also stated that despite efforts of internal and external actors, vulnerability of the pastoral groups to famine has increased over time. In that respect the study attempts to explain how these factors have led to an increase of vulnerability and livelihood insecurity among the Afar pastoralists. Three specific arguments are addressed through analyzing both secondary and primary data. These are: The Afar pastoralists’ vulnerability to famine has increased over the past decades because of the combined effects of drought, ecological crisis and external pressures (encroachments, loss of key pastoral resources, violent conflict and political instability). Pastoral households/communities are currently less able to cope with stresses through their traditional coping and adaptive strategies. Consequently, pastoral households/communities have become more dependent on public transfer (food aid) to cope with recurring food crisis. The empirical research used both qualitative and quantitative data in addressing the basic research questions. The outline of the research is structured to suit an approach of presenting discussions at macro and micro levels. An assessment of factors both, at macro (regional/national) and micro (community) levels, is made on the basis of secondary and primary data respectively. Accordingly, factors related to ecological degradation, socio-political processes and recurrent droughts, etc. are examined. The extent of these problems at the macro level is assessed mainly based on secondary data, while the magnitude of these problems at micro (community) level is assessed on the basis of primary data gathered through a household survey, and individual and focus group interviews. Based on the analyses of both primary and secondary data the research attempts to answer the question why the Afar pastoralists’ vulnerability to famine has increased over time and how the local and external actors have responded to recurring famine. The search for explanations of vulnerability to famine focuses on highlighting the interplay of multiple causal factors at different levels within historical socio-political and economic processes overlapping with ecological crisis and recurrent drought. Accordingly the research highlights the major factors that have created vulnerability to famine. These include: External pressures which include state intervention, land alienation, encroachment by cultivators, loss of dry season/drought retreats, curtailment of mobility and unfavourable terms of trade. Stresses which include frequent drought, conflicts, political instability, weakening mutual support systems, lack of trust in formal government institutions due to non-participatory, lack of commitment, patron-client relationship, and corruption. Ecological/environmental crises which are reflected in terms of loss of key pastoral resources (grass, natural fodder vegetation, and water). The conclusion of the research is that famine and the increase of vulnerability are not primarily the consequences of drought, but of external domination and uneven development. This suggests that the genesis of food crisis (famine) must be understood as an interaction of institutional, economic and political variables. Natural events like droughts don’t necessarily lead to famine in all contexts. It is only when livelihood assets are eroded, opportunities are constrained and people are not well-prepared that the consequences of natural events develop into famine or food crisis. This suggests that production or yield failures caused by drought do not become famines unless other conditions are propitious. Therefore, the current approach in social science research with regard to disaster causation is to look at the interrelationship between natural risks and social vulnerability.