THE camps have gone now and the people have returned to their villages: theY1ook healthier and the land looks greener. But Ethiopia's future remains balanced on a knife-edge.
The reasons, explains Cafod worker Richard Miller, just back from a month in the Horn of Africa, are twofold. The main worry is the rains, due in July and August. Unless they come, all the work done to send seeds, handtools and oxen to the famine-stricken country will have been in vain. Ethiopia will once again be plunged into drought and despair.
The other threat to the harvest comes from pests — grasshoppers and African armyworms, mainly — which are building up in the south of Ethiopia. Unless they are stopped they could spread. throughout the country and destroy the seedlirrgs.
To halt the pest invasion, Cafod last week paid £200,000 to airlift pesticides into the areas most at risk. These would have arrived too late to be of any use if they had gone by sea.
But even if the pesticides work, the Ethiopian crisis could return anew if the rains fail. Another ruined crop could mean a famine just as dire in its tragic consequences as the last.
Richard Miller is cautiously optimistic about the future. No one can summon up the rains, of course. But if they do come, and the pest threat is averted, he sees signs of hope for a nation whose sufferings, beamed nightly onto the television screens of the western world, awakened a generation to the horror of Third World hunger.
"Everyone there is talking about the need for long-term development work," says Richard Miller. "They hope that as long as they get good rains, people and resources will be freed from the emergency relief efforts to put their energies into long-term projects such as irrigation and reafforestation."
The Ethiopian people, he says, have an enormous capacity for self-help despite the image put forward by the western media at the height of the famine.
"We all saw them on TV just sitting there passively in the camps, waiting for food or death. But the vast majority of Ethiopians never went near one of those camps. At the height of the famine nine million were receiving relief aid — but only a small proportion of them were in camps. The rest of the population of 42 million simply stayed at home, fighting their daily battles without outside help." "The whole image of Ethiopia as a nation dependent on the outside world is largely a false one. Most people did not receive relief aid and those who did are now beginning to stand on their own feet again."
Even in the most acute times of famine, many people struggled on against tremendous odds. One group of farmers in the Hararge region toiled in shifts around the clock for three weeks to smash through rock with iron bars and hammers until they found water. Then they dug a five-metre deep, 200-metre long, trench for the flow to reach the surface.
"It shows that if you give the barest help — in this case, just iron bars and hammers — the people will struggle to overcome their problems themselves," says Richard Miller.
In Makele, the region visited by Cardinal Hume in November 1984, women's groups supported by Cafod are working to set up cottage industries. This type of development is extremely important to develop a sense of self-esteem, as Richard Miller explains.
"It gives the women some dignity to be able to sell their own work, otherwise they would be destitute and dependent on relief aid. Through this work — sewing, perhaps, or making clothes — they are able to support their families and become self-reliant again."
The women at Makele have given Richard a stole they made to present to Cardinal Hume. Clearly his visit is still a strong memory there.