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Abstract

This study argues that famines are preventable. What was once a universal threat to human life is now primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is likely to be the only continent to experience a continued high level of famine mortality during the 1990s, as well as an increase in absolute poverty. Therefore, the current challenge facing policymakers and research organizations such as IFPRI is to reduce the negative effects of famine in Africa and to lay the foundations for its longer- term eradication. This research by Patrick Webb, Joachim von Braum, and Yisehac Yohannes was designed to contribute to a better understanding of the root causes of famine and thereby to identify appropriate policies and projects for famine mitigation. As part of a larger IFPRI research effort on famine, this study complements a parallel study conducted on famine in Sudan that was presented in Research Report 88. Untill recently, the design of improved famine interventions has been hampered by a lack of detailed knowledge about who suffers most and why, and what can be done about it. Answers to these questions were sought by the authors through detailed field surveys in seven famine-affected areas of Ethiopia. An analysis of the roles of drought and market failure in famine was also pursued based on secondary data. The research findings demonstrate that drought and war are important, but only partial contributors to famine. The underlying factor that makes famine possible is poverty- absolute poverty at both the national and household levels. Thus, a policy focus on removing poverty becomes a key element of any famine prevention strategy. The creation of a macroeconomic environment favorable to private enterprise contributes to such a strategy. But public action will also continue to have an important role to play in famine mitigation between IFPRI and Ethiopia's policymakers is focused on identifying and aiding the implementation of such policies and programs.

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