FEWS said the spiralling population was one of a number of underlying causes of the widespread food insecurity in Ethiopia. Each year an estimated five million people are in need of food aid regardless of weather conditions in the drought-prone country.
"Polygamy, though declining, is still a dominant feature of the family structure in some parts of the Region, contributing to the high population growth rate and leading to a high number of female-headed households with limited means to provide for their children," said FEWS, which is backed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). "Women and children in polygamous households are vulnerable as they are usually disfavored by the bread-winner husbands."
"Mostly women are confined to their farms and seriously disadvantaged in terms of health care, education and employment opportunities. Furthermore, female headed households, predominantly due to cultural reasons, are more likely to be food insecure than male-headed households," the report added.
The network's comments come in a special report on the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR) which has been hard hit by the crisis in Ethiopia. Traditionally SNNPR has been a breadbasket region, but it has recently confounded aid agencies with massive malnutrition and large numbers of child deaths.
Humanitarian organisations have long argued that the crisis in Ethiopia, and SNNPR in particular, is not simply because of a lack of food. They say other causes such as the population explosion, a gradual decline in rainfall, a huge slump in coffee prices and reduced employment opportunities are also compounding it.
Given Ethiopia's massive demographic growth, it will soon have the 10th largest population in the world. Its population, currently ranked 17th, is estimated at 71 million by the 2003 World Population Data Sheet. By 2050 an estimated 173 million people will live in the impoverished nation, according to the US-based Population Reference Bureau.
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