Endangered Species Handbook

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Grasslands, Shrublands, Deserts

Drylands of the World: AFRICA: Page 4

     The shrubland and deserts of today's Ethiopia, Somalia and southern Sudan are the product of overpopulation of people and livestock, combined with poor agricultural practices.  Famines have killed millions of people in this region during the 20th century, and the destruction of the land has caused massive suffering through hunger and disease.  International aid organizations, with the best intentions, supply emergency food and encourage farming and livestock rearing in these damaged areas during each crisis.  They often replace livestock after droughts and have failed to educate the people on how to survive without damaging their environment; nor have they provided birth control information.  Within a few years of these famines, human populations have risen dramatically, with resultant overgrazing of land by livestock purchased for them by aid organizations, thus repeating the cycle.  Funding from these organizations has been crisis-oriented, and famines recur ever more frequently, causing the desert to expand while inflicting great human hardship on these peoples. 
      Families are encouraged to have large herds of livestock, especially the ecologically devastating goat, and some international aid programs specialize in supplying livestock to people around the world. Within 15 years of deviating famines in the mid-1980s that killed hundreds of thousands of people, drought struck again in 2000, threatening the lives of 16 million people in Ethiopia and neighboring countries (Fisher 2000).  A typical family in the area has six to nine children, 200 goats and 60 cattle.  In late 1999, after three years without rain, livestock died in huge numbers and families trekked to towns for aid (Fisher 2000).  By December, 1999, 7.8 million people faced food shortages, and food shipments were sent by the European Union and aid groups (Fisher 2000). 
     Neither international aid organizations nor the Ethiopian government have placed a priority on saving the environment and preventing future famines by conservation programs and family planning services.  The inhabitants of the region have unknowingly overexploited this dry land, through overgrazing, deforestation and plowing away the topsoil, rendering most of the land area infertile and barren.  Ethiopia is a country three times the size of California and, prior to this relatively recent misuse of the land, was one of the most beautiful and wildlife-rich countries in the world. Neighboring Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti have suffered similar declines in their environment from abuse of the land.  There is an urgent need to protect these fragile and beautiful ecosystems and their fauna and flora while helping their people survive in ecologically benign ways.  International aid groups and governments should consider projects which help both people and the environment.

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