To the Editor: Re “Is the Era of Great Famines Over?” (Opinion Pages, May 8):
With all due respect, Mr. de Waal is not asking the right question, and he is doing the people of Ethiopia a great disservice.
I have just returned from Denan, Ethiopia, home to a camp for internally displaced persons. In the Denan camp, despite promises by international aid organizations, food relief had not been delivered in nearly seven months. Many people are lucky to be able to give one meager meal per day to their children. Some get less than that. Perhaps the images are not as shocking as those from the 1980s, but seeing a woman hold a malnourished child who is too weak to walk is an image that will stay with me for a long time.
It may be that due to somewhat better infrastructure and an improved political situation that the numbers of great starvation and death are not what they once were. But this is irrelevant to the families who are still watching their children suffer.
The ultimate goal of The Denan Project, of which I’m the president and co-founder, is to help impoverished communities become self-sustainable. But when feeding one’s children becomes a daily struggle, when hunger pains do not lessen, it is not possible to focus on anything else — least of all the semantics of labeling their unspeakable suffering a “great famine” or not.