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FrontLines Year in Review: Catching Ethiopians Before They Fall

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines May/June 2012 issue.

Despite one of the region’s worst droughts, no famine struck rural Ethiopia last year. The drought’s impact was lessened by a food-and-cash-for-public-works program USAID supports and helped design. Today, one of Africa’s largest social safety nets does not just protect against chronic food insecurity, it helps communities weather the future.

It is December 2011, and life goes on as normal in the arid highlands of Tigray, the northern Ethiopian region whose burnt siennas, giant cactus flowers, and peaks and canyons could easily be confused with those of the American Southwest. Here, donkeys carry grain and pull packs on the side of the road. Farmers work their fields. There is no sign of a crisis.

Normality is not typically a measure of success, but in this case, and in this particular region, it is. Beginning in early 2011, a severe drought decimated parts of East Africa, leading to a June declaration of famine in parts of Somalia.

The drought was considered in some parts of the region to be one of the worst in 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa. The month before the official drought declaration, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned: “This is the most severe food-security emergency in the world today.”

In Tigray, a region held hostage to annual alternating dry and wet seasons, the impact has been minimal. The reason, according to many who live there, is a riff on the same theme: Because of “safety net,” they say, things are OK.

A beneficiary of the USAID-supported Productive Safety Net Program living near the Mai-Aqui site, in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Nena Terrell.

“Safety net,” which several Ethiopian ethnicities know by its English term, refers to the flagship food-security program designed by the Ethiopian Government, USAID and other donors after another severe drought hit the country in 2003.

The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as it is officially called, originated as part of a new approach to address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers to chronically food-insecure populations in exchange for labor on public works projects.

“The food ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families. The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public-works projects designed to improve communities as a whole,” says Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.

As a result, crucial infrastructure—roads, watersheds, canals, terracing, irrigation systems, schools and health clinics—has been built or rehabilitated with the labor of the food insecure.

According to USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Tom Staal, as the program was being designed in consultations led by the Ethiopian Gov­ernment, donors realized the need to not just respond to crises as they happened, but to build up resilience among the most vulnerable communities, giving them the ability to weather the inevitable dry stretches on their own.

“Before PSNP, those in chronic need were provided assistance through emergency programs,” says Scott Hocklander, chief of USAID/Ethiopia’s Office for Food Assistance and Livelihood Transitions.

“While this food aid saved lives, it did not contribute to development activities or address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Today, because of the safety net, approximately 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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USAID’s Frontlines – October 2010


Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories:

President Barack Obama calls international developmenta moral imperative and a key element in U.S. national security policy during a landmark United Nations speech

Tech innovators and grown-up science fair fans test drive innovative devices on the fast track to production and deployment in poor countries struggling with development challenges

After 60 years in Indonesia, USAID looks back at its successes and ahead to what is shaping up as a precedent-setting relationship between country and mission

Talk of microfinance and opening small businesses replaces talk of entrenched fighting in Iraq’s once notorious Falluja

A product that measures the size of a mothball is having an outsized impact on Bangladeshi rice farms – and the incomes of the rice farmers

Read these stories and more in the new issue of FrontLines. If you would like to automatically receive FrontLines every month, you can subscribe here.

Calling All Shutterbugs

FrontLines will be holding a photo contest and wants to see your best images that showcase USAID development activities in action.

Isabel Carpio Chami, a member of the Panama’s Emberá-Wounnan community, who is the lead tourism coordinator of a USAID-sponsored eco-tourism project in the Panama Canal Watershed. Photo credit: Fernando Alvarez, USAID

We want to see your most captivating shots. Think climate change, maternal health, water and sanitation, education, democracy, science and technology, disaster aid – no sector is off limits. Your photo should help illustrate why and how USAID is working in the world to extend a helping hand to people striving to make their lives better.

A panel of USAID employees will review all the entries and declare a winner. And the winning photograph will appear prominently in an upcoming issue of FrontLines.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

  • All photos must be submitted digitally, with .jpg files preferred. They must also be shot in high resolution, at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) or approximately 1 megabyte.
  • Include the date and location for the photograph as well as a brief description of what is happening in the image.
  • Any FrontLines reader can submit an image, including employees of NGOs and contractors.
  • One entry per person.
  • Have fun and be creative.

Send all entries to frontlines@usaid.gov with the subject: Photo Contest. Any questions about the contest should be sent to the same e-mail address. The deadline for entries is November 10. Good luck!

Have Your Say!

FrontLines loves to hear from our readers! To submit a letter to the editor e-mail frontlines@usaid.gov with the subject: Letter to the Editor.

Letters may be sent by regular mail to this address:

FrontLines
USAID
1300 Pennsylvania Ave,
Washington, DC 20523-7100
Room: 6.10.11

Please include your full name, address, and email. Letters should be 200 words or fewer, and all are subject

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