The vista of Ethiopia’s ancient Rift Valley, speckled with shimmering lakes, stretches before me as our motorized caravan heads south from Lake Langano, part of a study tour on population-health-environment issues organized by the Packard Foundation. Sadly, the country’s unrelenting poverty and insecurity are as breathtaking as the view — Ethiopia currently ranks 170 out of 177 countries on the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index.

These numbers become quite personal when child after child sprints alongside the truck, looking for any morsel. Here, I don’t need to read between the lines of endless reports to see the country’s severe population, health, and environment challenges — they are visible in the protruding ribcages of the cattle and the barren eroding terraces in the nation’s rural highlands.


When analyzing environment, conflict, and cooperation, scholars and practitioners most often focus on organized violence, where people die at the business end of a gun. We commonly set aside “little c” conflict where the violence is not organized. However, while the Ethiopian troops fighting the Islamic Courts in Somalia garner the most attention, we should not miss the quieter — yet often more lethal — conflicts. For example, Ethiopia, like much of the Horn of Africa, continues to be beset by pastoralist/farmer conflicts over its shrinking resource base — increasingly exacerbated by population growth, environmental degradation, and likely climate change. In today’s globalized world, these local conflicts may also have larger “neighborhood” effects, contributing to wars and humanitarian disasters, as in Sudan’s Darfur region.

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