Ethiopia: British media fuels aid apathy | Horn of Africa drought

At a time when about 12 million people in the horn of Africa suffer from the worst drought in 60 years , British media is busy disenchanting private donations.

Ethiopia appealed on July to the international community for 398 million USD to help 4.5 million citizens until December. However, to date, only 37% of the request is met – (contributed and/or pledged), according to August 1 data of United Nations.

Moreover, Ethiopia hosts about 150,000 refugees from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan which need about 246 million USD assistance. Yet, less than 10% of the fund trickled in so far.

As a result, even Ethiopian governments food reserved is down to a fraction of its 400,000 Metric ton capacity, while World Food Program is scrambling to purchase and import food items as soon as possible.

Though, as usual, the British government and public responded faster and generously to Ethiopia, there remains a huge shortfall in aid supply to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa in general.

The major factor of the low response is ‘aid apathy’ in the western public.

Alas, at a time when only a third of the needed aid is supplied, Britain’s media inexplicably chose to fuel the aid apathy by presenting a misleading report about the distribution of an aid that didn’t come.

The disinformation branded as ‘a joint undercover investigation by BBC Newsnight and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism(TBIJ)’ and disseminated by the two outlets and also The Telegraph on Aug. 4.  It was repeated on the next day on the Daily Mail and the Guardian. The more or less similar story posed and re-posted in these five British outlets is incredibly incoherent – as extensively discussed here. (link)

To add salt to an injury, this media debacle, directly and indirectly fuels aid apathy.

As a poll by PoliticsHome and YouGov-Cambridge last June indicated, 62 percent of  the British public believes aid ‘fails to reach ordinary people in the developed world and is wasted by corrupt governments’.

UK opinion poll June 2011

This attitude is arguably partly a result of BBC’s last year ‘investigative report’ about the misuse of live aid funds in the 1984 Ethiopian famine.  It took BBC eight months and  to issue an apology, following an internal inquiry, and a stern rebuke  from Sir Bob Geldof, who organized  Live-Aid.

But an irreparable damage was already done.

On the contrary, BBC never told its audience about the July/2010 report of the Development Assistance Group (DAG-Ethiopia), the consortium of 16 Donor countries and agencies, which attested:

‘Ethiopia has a capable government that is demonstrably committed to addressing poverty and promoting development, with an impressive record of pro-poor spending, relatively sound financial management and sustained economic growth over recent years.’

As if that was not enough, BBC, in partnership with a recently-founded media the Bureau of Investigative Journalism(TBIJ), claimed last week that ‘an undercover investigation… reveals…whole communities are being denied basic food..’ The same was parroted by Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Guardian.

Though BBC and the Guradian inserted a contradicted the statement by inserting a sentence that claims the aid abuse allegations are concerning ‘longer-term funds aimed at poverty reduction, not the emergency aid’. That is unlikely to be noticed by most readers, thus, unsurprisingly, a few news outlets repeated the line.

At any rate, it is the claim of aid denial, not the technical distinction between humanitarian and development aid, that  rings louder on the audience.

Yet, it should be noted that long-term aids are not unrelated to the current crisis.

The Economist recently claimed that the number of affected people could have been threefold larger, had it not been for long term development assistances. Though that figure may be an exaggeration of the aid industry, it at least indicates the relevance of those programs and their significance.

The current irresponsible blistering media campaign will indisputably undermine and complicate ongoing fundraising efforts, thereby inflicting a maximum damage on those who are suffering from the worst drought for sixty years.’


Read previous post:Reflections on BBC & TIBJ media onslaught

Daniel Berhane

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