Turning Development Upside Down
A book about reforming relief and development

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Chapter 1- 2 Example: Ethiopia in 2003

The following story was written by Nicholas Kristof and published in the New York Times in May 2003. It paints a vivid picture of the scene. There is obviously a problem. Something is not working, but the article does not address this question at all.

The sad case of Abernash Andreos

Meet Aberash Andreos. She's a 6-year-old girl from a remote village in southern Ethiopia. I met her at a Catholic-run clinic near the town of Awassa, where she was among the throngs of children awaiting lifesaving milk to rescue them from the famine that threatens millions of people in the Horn of Africa.

Aberash is not one of the worst off. The really desperate children are inside the clinic, lying comatose on beds (two children to a bed) as nurses fight to keep them alive, or they are dying in their villages.

The better-off children, like Aberash, can stand on their own on the clinic grounds.

"I've nothing to eat at home," said Andreos Lutta, the girl's father (standing behind her in this photograph). He is a farmer whose crops have failed because of the drought that has struck the region, so he tries to find day labor and earn money to buy food. When he finds work, he earns about 40 cents a day.

I didn't visit Aberash's home, but the others I entered were similar: a windowless grass-roofed hut, called a tukul, with a couple of cows (if they haven't died) on one side, and the family on the other. Keeping the cows inside at night protects them from hyenas and rustlers. Poor families typically have a single cooking pot, a water jug, a homemade bed made of sticks that serves everyone, and no other possessions: no bicycle, no watch, no change of clothes, no food.

That's not to say there is no food in the village itself. Some families are better off and have grain, and there are merchants with supplies to sell to anyone with money. In one village, a grain merchant was insouciantly putting his grain in sacks on the main street as children were staggering by, ready to drop from hunger.

Like most parents, Mr. Lutta himself didn't seem malnourished (the father almost always eats first in these villages, and then the mother and children eat together, using bread to scoop a stew from a common pot). He has six other children, and they are better off. It's typically the smallest ones, like Aberash, who are in trouble: they no longer depend on breast milk, but they aren't strong enough to compete with their siblings in grabbing food from the pot.

"It's the first time we've seen it like this," Mr. Lutta said, referring to the severity of the famine. In this area, conditions were never this bad, even in the terrible 1984-85 famine, which killed some one million people.

Children like Aberash will be saved only if the West mounts a major effort to help them. The U.S. has responded relatively well to the calls for assistance from Ethiopia, but I'm afraid that much more will be needed. For individuals who want to contribute, some options are listed below.

Aberash is just one child, but I saw countless more just like her. In village after village, you meet these kids, hold their hands, touch their bones. But they are in a remote corner of the world, dying quietly, as we go about our business.

In the best of circumstances, about 100,000 boys and girls like Aberash will die of malnutrition-related ailments this year in Ethiopia. If the drought continues and the West doesn't provide more assistance, the number of deaths will rise to several hundred thousand or more.

Many readers have asked how they can donate money to help fight famine in the Horn of Africa. I don't think it's appropriate for me to recommend any one organization, and there are many groups doing good work in the region. Here are some options (in each case, write "Ethiopia" or "Eritrea" for the money to go to one specific place):

1. The U.N. World Food Program,, whose feeding programs I visited, is very active in the area.
Donations are tax-deductible in the U.S. if checks are made out to "Friends of the World Food Program."
Send the donation to:
WFP2 UN Plaza DC2 - 2500
New York, New York 10017
Phone 917-367-43412.

Doctors without Borders,,
is also active in the area where Aberash lives:
6 East 39th Street, 8th floor
New York, NY 10016
Phone 1-888-392-03923.

155 Plan Way
Warwick, Rhode Island 02886
4. Mercy Corps,,
which works in Eritrea but not Ethiopia:

Mercy Corps
Dept. FM
PO Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208-2669
1-800-292-3355 extension 250

This article in a the New York Times in May 2003 is so very typical of the “stories” that get run by major newspapers. The story is a good story. It is written well. It grabs attention. But it is a story that could be written about maybe 2 billion people on the planet. So I argue that this is a good story, but not news, and really not anything. It really is not “fit to print”.

To their credit, the writer, or the editors, or someone has responded to readers who want to “donate money” by including a set of organizations that would be glad to receive donations, but this is easy, and there is a question as to whether this is a good idea or not with the present state of development and the lack of effective accounting and accountability.

I felt the need to respond to the article and the following is what I sent. I did not address all the issues but wanted to open a dialog if that was possible.

The sad case of Abernash Andreos
5/24/2003 12:31:56 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Profitinafrica

Dear Nicholas Kristof

I have had your recent article about Abernash Andreos forwarded to me by a friend. And it is, of course, a very moving and tragic story.

But the really sad thing is that this crisis should never have happened.

There is a chronic failure of development. The system of global economics that allows maybe 50% of the world's population to be poor and hungry, and in the present situation in the Horn of Africa, starving and dieing is a crime.

Your article tells us something about today. But what was it that happened yesterday that caused today? And what are we doing today that will replicate this crisis again tomorrow?

There is a crisis in international affairs and development that is causing the crisis you have described. The process of development just does not work. And it has not worked effectively for the past two or three or four decades. The world works for the rich NORTH but the poor SOUTH is in trouble and getting worse. This need not be. It can be changed. But do not look to the existing official development assistance organization to do it.

There needs to be a new way forward that gets resources to people who are going to use the resources to solve problems practically and according to the real priorities of the community. The solution is not food for the starving today. It should have been resources for the communities yesterday so that they could be ready for today.

Just food now is not enough. There must be resources for community to get ready for tomorrow's crisis.

And it should not be given to the community. It should be loaned ..... and used only for economic value adding activities of priority for the community.

Giving to support failed plans must stop .... and be replaced with loans to support things that are going to be successful.

And governments that fail to allow loans to support success should be held accountable for their actions.

I am not happy to see your story. Why is this happening? Why are people tolerating this global failure of development ..... this terrible injustice .... and the incompetence it represents.

Peter Burgess

I copied the person who had sent me the NYT article in the first place. She seemed to like what I had said.
Re: The sad case of Abernash Andreos
5/24/2003 9:45:27 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From Claudiamcg
To Profitinafrica

Yea!! Peter.

And I got a reply from the writer of the article, but it was only an automated reply and really did not say very much.

Thanks for your message
5/24/2003 12:35:36 AM Eastern Daylight Time
Thanks for your message. This is an automatic response, because I can't respond individually to the emails -- then there'd be no time to write the column. But I read them all and appreciate both the compliments and the complaints, as well as the information and ideas for future columns. I do reply to some points made by multiple writers (and quote some incoming messages anonymously) at a site in the NYT forums section. You can get to it via the forum for discussing my columns, or the direct link is:
If you would like your message considered for publication as a letter to the editor, then please send it to another email address:
You will increase the prospect of having a letter published if you send it as soon as possible after publication and keep it as short as possible.
Thanks very much.
Nicholas Kristof


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