June 18, 2003
First off, yes, it's all true. Ethiopians really do refuse to irrigate and eat well while their kids don't. Carrying water is traditionally "woman's work" there (harken back to the days of women walking home from the river with jugs on their heads.) Farming, meanwhile, is considered "man's work" obviously. So no gender is socially allowed to irrigate.
As for their kids, I oversimplified a bit. First, Dad eats. Then Mom. Then the kids in descending order of age. So it's the kids who are too old to breast-feed, but near the end of the family food line who suffer the most. A New York Times reporter wrote about this in an article about a month ago. The mom who brought her distended starving kid to the hospital was healthy, robust, had a nice dress on, and fresh nail polish.
It was all started by a horrible drought that destroyed their agricultural infrastructure. But since then, warlords have hoarded the food donations, American aid has shut down local farming as a side effect, and the culture refuses to change with the needs of the present time. So they starve. Horribly.
I'm not as crazy as Andy in the comic. I do, however, think that instead of sending them food, we should take that money and hire engineers to go irrigate their farms. With what's left, set up food shelters run by outsiders (so as to ensure the food gets to who needs it), and make it an "all you can eat buffet" deal. The hungry can eat there, but they can't take it home. That way you know the starving kid gets food, instead of getting a slightly fatter father.