I thank the Chairman and the members of the Sub-Committee on Overseas Development for this invitation to discuss Ireland's aid programme in Ethiopia. I am delighted to be joined today by my Department of Foreign Affairs colleagues from Ethiopia and headquarters, as well as by Mr. Ray Jordan of Self Help Africa. We work closely with Self Help Africa in Ethiopia and its insights will add greatly to our discussions, particularly concerning rural development. I echo the comments of the Chairman in welcoming the ambassador, His Excellency, Zerihun Retta Sumye, and contacts from the NGO community.
I note the committee is particularly interested in hearing of the impact Ireland's programme is having in Ethiopia. Our intention is to discuss the programme from that perspective. We also wish to give a sense of the scale of our commitment to the reduction of poverty and hunger in the country. Over the past three years the Government, through the aid programme, has provided €126 million for development in Ethiopia. Of this amount, €96 million is being delivered under the bilateral programme managed by the embassy team in Addis Ababa. The remaining €30 million is being channelled through Irish NGOs, missionaries, UN multilateral agencies and other NGO partners.
I propose to offer a brief overview of our programme and to explore a few basic questions such as why Irish Aid is in Ethiopia, what the challenges are and, crucially, what results are being achieved. Many Irish people associate Ethiopia with the devastating famine of 1984-85, during which more than 1 million people died. The images from that time made a searing and lasting impression on people in Ireland and across the world. Some 25 years on, Ethiopia is still one of the poorest countries in the world. In the period since our aid programme was established in Ethiopia in 1994, significant progress has been made, and the Ethiopian Government is committed to poverty reduction. Where nearly half the population were living on less than $1 a day in 1990, just over a third are today. However, with a population of 77 million, this still means that 27 million Ethiopians are surviving on less than $1 a day. We remain engaged in Ethiopia because our support is yielding significant results but the needs remain immense.
Our programme in Ethiopia is divided into two broad pillars. The first aims at addressing that most basic of needs, food security. The second focuses on helping poor households to move beyond mere subsistence and on to more sustainable development through accessing better health and education services. Food security continues to be a struggle for millions of families in this vulnerable corner of Africa. More than half of Ireland's funding is directed to supporting initiatives that increase smallholder productivity and help vulnerable rural households to cope better with shocks such as poor rainfall or rising food prices.
As such, Ireland's approach in Ethiopia is very much in keeping with the recommendations of the Government's hunger task force launched in September 2008. It also reflects the challenges facing Ethiopia, where 80% of the population live in rural areas. The agriculture sector, and the millions who rely on it, are entirely dependent on weather and are highly vulnerable to shocks such as drought.
The Ethiopian Government is aware of the need to improve agricultural productivity and is investing strongly in agriculture and rural development. Expenditure in this sector stands at 12.5% of total public spending, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. By way of sharing with the committee a sense of our contribution to agricultural productivity and food security, I make specific reference to our experiences in the northern region of Tigray. This region was particularly badly hit by the famine of the 1980s and it is for this reason that Irish Aid began a programme there in 1994.
Since then, Irish officials have worked alongside officials of the Tigray region in planning, funding and implementing a comprehensive, integrated approach to soil and water conservation. In that time, we have supported the development of integrated watershed management. As a consequence of our support, agricultural productivity and livelihood security has increased. This has been achieved through the development of a network of techniques such as the construction of gullies and dams to slow the flow of the seasonal rains and the planting of trees and shrubs to retain the nutrients in the soil. All of this enables the raising of the water table. Complementary work has involved supporting local communities to diversify crops and to move into new areas of business such as beekeeping or poultry. Development work continues with support to bring farmers and researchers together to test different seed types and other inputs to improve yields.
The results of this partnership are evident. When I visited one of these areas recently, I asked a local farmer how her life had changed. She put it very simply: before the development of the watershed, she was unable to feed her family for more than three months of the year and she was planning to resettle. Now she provides food for her family year-round, her daughter has trained as a teacher and her son is at university. She feels secure in her and her children's future.
While the scale of what needs to be achieved in Ethiopia is daunting, our experiences in Tigray show us what is possible. Ireland acting alone cannot replicate this Tigray experience across Ethiopia but, through our participation in the multi-donor productive safety net programme, we are contributing to the scaling-up of this type of approach. Between 2008 and 2009, Irish Government assistance is contributing €24 million to this safety net programme. In this way we are supporting the provision of a social protection system to 7.5 million people throughout Ethiopia. The programme, which is the largest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, provides food and cash payments in exchange for public works. The public works undertaken largely comprise soil and water conservation projects to improve agricultural productivity, like those Irish Aid supported in Tigray. In any given year, 34,000 public works, which improve community resources, are carried out across the country.
Despite the progress made in building up the resilience of households to deal with food insecurity through the safety net programme and other support for agricultural productivity, there is an additional vulnerable section of society hovering around the poverty line. In difficult years, a varying number of these people slip below the poverty line and need emergency food and nutrition relief. As mentioned by the Chairman at the outset, the situation at the moment is of grave concern. Poor rainfall has led to a severe deterioration in the food security situation in parts of the country. Food prices remain high. Some communities have a significantly reduced ability to cope with these pressures because they are still reeling from the difficulties of 2008 when the number requiring emergency relief exceeded 6 million. Last week the Ethiopian authorities announced that the number in need of emergency assistance reached 6.2 million people. The Government responded quickly with €1.35 million in humanitarian assistance, which was announced last week by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power.
The prospects for 2010 are cause for further concern. This year's summer rains were erratic. Assessments of the impact are currently being undertaken and we should have a better picture over the next four to six weeks. If the forthcoming harvest fails, the numbers requiring emergency relief will increase further. More generally, there is concern that the impact of climate change will increase the regularity of droughts in this extremely fragile part of the world.
Twenty five years after the famine, therefore, food security continues to be a struggle for millions of families in Ethiopia. However, as noted by Oxfam in a report published last week, the severity of the suffering seen 25 years ago has not revisited Ethiopia. This is not to downplay the gravity of the current humanitarian situation, however. It is clear that a serious deterioration has occurred but the manner in which the Ethiopian Government, supported by the international community, deals with food shortages has developed very significantly since 1984. Many Irish people will recall the distressing images from the 1980s of large camps where emergency food and health services were provided to starving masses. We are not seeing those scenes now because emergency food and nutrition relief is provided to communities through established government mechanisms which enable the majority of people receiving assistance to remain with their families.
While progress continues to be made, Ethiopia has a considerable distance to go on key development indicators and a number of complex challenges remain to be navigated in the period ahead. The economy is feeling the impact of the global recession, which is likely to reduce the level of public funding available for poverty reduction sectors. Furthermore, elections are due to take place next year and political tensions, as well as concerns about governance generally, are high. After nearly 2,000 years of feudal and later imperial rule, followed by close to two decades of a military regime, it was not until 1995, or just a year after the establishment of the Irish Government's bilateral programme in Ethiopia, that the first constitution enshrining democratic principles was introduced. For much of the period since then, progress has been made towards deepening democracy but the violent aftermath to the 2005 elections has left a difficult and disappointing legacy. Ensuring that the forthcoming 2010 elections are fair, free and peaceful will, therefore, be a test of the democratic, pluralistic commitment of the Ethiopian Government and of wider society.
The embassy is working closely with other international partners in Addis Ababa to encourage the widest possible participation in the democratic process. For example, as ambassador of Ireland I am currently a co-chair of the Ethiopian partners' group of more than 30 ambassadors. We are maintaining close contact with key political actors. Furthermore, Ireland leads on civil society issues within the donor community. A particular priority at the moment is assisting civil society organisations to adapt to new legislation which limits the types of activities in which organisations receiving foreign funding can engage.
Our close work with civil society also involves supporting citizens to secure access to better quality public services. The most vulnerable sections of society cannot hope to escape extreme poverty unless they can benefit from health and education services. Since the 1990s, Ethiopia has made significant progress in reducing poverty and improving the living standards of its citizens. This has been supported by the strong economic growth which has enabled large increases in public spending on education, health and water but the progress achieved needs to be seen from the perspective of the very low base on which Ethiopia is building.
The commitment of the Ethiopian Government to poverty reduction is clear from the fact that public funding to basic services doubled between 2005 and 2009. Irish Aid supports poverty reduction and improved social services through our support for a multi-donor programme called the protection of basic services. Funds support the delivery at a regional level of health, education, water and sanitation as well as agriculture services and rural roads. Some 70% of these costs are covered by the Ethiopian Government with international development partners covering the remainder.
Good progress is being made. On education, for example, net enrolment in primary schools in 2007 reached 79%. The achievement is more notable when we consider that the level of net enrolment in 1991 was as low as 48%. Progress is also being made in the health sector. For example, the number of children dying before the age of five dropped by a third between 1990 and 2005. Furthermore the prevalence of HIV has dropped from 7.3% in 2000 to 2.1% in 2007. Much more progress is needed, however, especially in women's health, if Ethiopia is to accelerate progress towards the achievement of the millennium development goals. A woman in Ireland has a one in 48,000 chance of dying from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth in her lifetime. In Ethiopia, the possibility of a woman dying from such complications is one in 27. This is why Irish Aid is supporting the Ethiopian Government in its priority of improving women's health. Our funding is contributing to the deployment of 30,000 new health extension workers to provide primary health care for families at the local community level.
In concluding my introduction to our programme, I emphasise that Ireland's aid programme in Ethiopia is making a positive difference to an impoverished country located in an unstable and fragile corner of the globe. In managing our programme we continue to attach the highest priority to rigorous monitoring and accountability to ensure value for money is secured and the programme delivers for the most vulnerable Ethiopians. I am conscious these introductory remarks have provided only a brief outline of the programme and of the challenges facing Ethiopia. I would welcome a visit by members to the country to give them the opportunity to witness at first hand the impact Irish Aid's support is having.