Vulnerable Regions versus Vulnerable People: An Ethiopian Case Study
Assessments of vulnerability to various types of global change carry an implicit assumption that people are ‘equally’ vulnerable, as one often hears of vulnerable people in the context of regional analyses. It is common to read of the effects of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on farmers in Southern Africa, for example. It is also not unusual to hear of Ethiopia’s north central highlands as chronically food insecure or of the centre as food sufficient. The ‘regionalization’ and ‘homogenization’ of vulnerability forms part of a global process in which ideological, economic and political tensions polarize the positions of countries in the North versus the South, of rich countries versus poor countries, and of national interests versus sub-national and local ones. A disadvantage is that localized problems do not command the solutions or resources that they should. Wisner (1998) and Uitto (1998) provide case examples where localized socialvulnerability analyses were ignored in favour of global, technological and scientific assessments of vulnerability to disasters caused by natural hazards. This leads to the marginalization of the most vulnerable people. In this chapter, I maintain that the emphasis on broad-scale vulnerability is detrimental to good analyses and is shaped by international and national discourses. This is discussed in the Ethiopian context during the middle and late 1990s. Hence, the following sections are structured around three elements: the influence of global discourses, how this affects policy and discourse in the Ethiopian national early warning system, and spatial-scale issues present in food-aid targeting and interventions. This is followed by a final comment linking these elements to specific activities and reports produced by early warning institutions in 1997, 1998 and 1999 and a proposal for an alternative discourse to guide future vulnerability analysis.