This article is part of our special report Is EU development aid working?.
Europe’s action in Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa region provides a telling example of the challenges international donours face when trying to link emergency assistance with long-term development aid.
Last week, the EU’s most senior foreign affairs, development and emergency aid officials travelled to Addis Ababa to pledge a further €122 million in aid to head off the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the country from heading into a full-blown famine.
It was a mark of the gravity of the El Niño weather phenomenon, a rising of surface sea temperatures, exacerbated by climate change, which has the contradictory affects of increasing both flooding, and – in large parts of East Africa and the Horn of Africa – droughts.
Ethiopia – a country of some 100 million people – has been the worst affected, with more than 10% of its population reliant on food aid for survival.
It is the worst drought in 50 years – even more severe than the famine of 1984-85, which sparked the Live Aid charity concert, and (to the chagrin of Ethiopia’s current government, which has put in place extensive emergency measures to identify and react to drought warnings) left the country synonymous with starvation and famine.
The €122.5 million pledged by European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, and Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, is aimed at relieving the most immediate food needs of some 10 million plus people, with what the EU terms “early recovery assistance [and] initiatives that address the root causes of fragility and vulnerability.”
Four months between donations and food on ground
With a four-month ‘lead time’ between pledges of cash and actual delivery of food supplies on the ground, it hopes to relieve pressure on the population ahead of the summer – traditionally Ethiopia’s rainy season.
Styliandes said, “With over 10 million people [in Ethiopia] currently struggling to find food, the humanitarian situation is very worrying. The EU is taking action – our new support will allow us to step up our efforts to help the most vulnerable in Ethiopia.”
Mimica was careful to praise the efforts of the government in Addis Ababa, adding “We can build on the past successes of Ethiopia.”
In itself, a €122 million aid package is not enough – as NGOs and the Ethiopian government were quick to point out, and Ethiopia is not the only country in the Horn of Africa (which also includes Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti) to be suffering.
Indeed, it is a supplementary package of aid, coming on top of the El Niño emergency package announced in December 2015, of some €79 million for the Greater Horn of Africa region, €43 million of which went to Ethiopia.
And Ethiopia is already the largest beneficiary of EU development assistance, receiving €200 million n humanitarian aid since 2011, and a country programme of €745 million for the period 2014-2020 in development assistance.
Nevertheless, the government in Addis Ababa says it is still some $650 million short of its target of $1.4 billion donor appeal, with “significant life-saving gaps remaining across sectors”, is four weeks into a 90-day awareness-raising campaign about the need for further help.
“Very little…very late”
Speaking on 17 March – before the most recent EU aid package – Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn warned, “The aid provided to us so far is very little, and it often came very late.”
Without specifying Syria by name, he also pointed to one of the reasons this current drought in East Africa, which has also affected countries such as Malawi and Zimbabwe, has so far attracted little attention in the Western media, namely the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and North Africa.
“Ethiopia should not be neglected by any means, despite all the other crises that are going on elsewhere in the world,” Desalegn added.
“My country deserves more support because we are also sheltering some 750,000 refugees from neighbouring countries that need food aid.”
That hints at the other problems confronting the European Commission as it tries to allocate aid in the Horn of Africa: whilst Ethiopia is relatively stable and secure, if authoritarian, its neighbours (Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan) comprise a roll-call of failed or failing states, Islamist terrorism and civil war.
Addis Ababa has promised to speed up the opening of its new electricified train line to the port-state of Djibouti, to ease access for food aid
Commissioner Mimica used his trip to the continent to also visit neighbouring Sudan, where he pledged €100 million, under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, set up in 2015 to help “tackle instability and the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement.”
Sudan still has some 3 million internally displaced people within its borders, following the Darfur conflict more than a decade ago.
Whilst NGOs have largely welcomed the extra aid for the El Nino drought, it came with caveats, qualifications and – at least in one case – downright scepticism.
Women and small-scale farmers
Oxfam pointed to the importance of local, small-scale, agriculture producers in future development initiatives, once the immediate crisis has passed.
Hannah Saarinen, EU policy advisor for investment in agriculture, told EurActiv.com “Food security is a high priority within the EU, but the question is how that turns into policies.
“The wider picture of development should highlight particularly the importance of women-farmers, as this has a multiplier effect in the Horn of Africa where agriculture remains the main means of subsistence and production.
“At a policy level it [the importance of small-scale, and female, farmers] is there, but it is not just a question of development, but also investment and trade policies, and where these are compatible with sustainable agriculture.
“Private sector investment in agriculture is large and growing, but often done largely on their [Western conglomorates] terms and conditions.”
The One Campaign, co-founded by rock star Bono in 2007, hailed “some positive actions” from the EU, but emphasised the need for a focus on nutrition.
Tamira Gunzburg, its Brussels Director at ONE, said “During the drought in 2011, the European Commission pioneered an approach that merged humanitarian relief with long-term development programmes designed to build resilience to such shocks in future.
“Yet as external shocks such as El Niño threaten that progress, donors must remain by these countries’ side.
“The European Commission should continue to invest in programmes aimed to treat and prevent undernutrition both in and beyond the Horn of Africa. Doing so could help prevent the deaths of almost half of all children under 5 that die each year.”
War on Want, the UK-based charity which boasts it was “unique” during the 1985 famine in working with the liberation fronts of Tigray and Eritrea, rather than than just the Marxist Derg regime in Addis Ababa, was more scathing.
Director John Hilary told EurActiv, “Far too much of European aid is about satisfying interests of European businesses, not countries that desperately need our help.
“The point of aid is not to deal with short-term symptoms, but long-term structural problems countries in East Africa face.
“EU aid needs to build on long-term capacities of Africa, so that they don’t need aid in future. Everything else perpetuates the problem.”
Eritrea – money and aid vs democracy?
And now the Commission also faces new criticism much closer to home, in Brussels itself, over its aid policies to the Horn of Africa.
Last month, the largest party in the European Parliament, the centre-right EPP group, demanded that no EU money be given to authoritarian regimes in the Horn of Africa.
Davo Ivo Stier, spokesman on the Development Committee, pointed to the €200 million pledged to Eritrea over the next five years, saying “People are fleeing Eritrea due to its oppressive regime.
“It is important to ensure that EU aid does not assist authoritarian regimes with our taxpayers’ money.
“[We have] repeatedly emphasised that democratic governance, the building of transparent and inclusive organisations, and the protection of human rights, should be the basis [of future funding for Eritrea.
“We need more transparency in development programming, and better cooperation between the EU institutions,” he complained.