The People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) was the official name of Ethiopia from 1987 to 1991, as established by the Communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE). It dissolved the Derg, the Communist military dictatorship formerly in charge of the country, and established a one-party state with the WPE as supreme authority, though several ex-Derg officials retained posts in the new government.
Primary school enrollment increased from about 957,300 in 1974/75 to nearly 2,450,000 in 1985/86. There were still variations among regions in the number of students enrolled and a disparity in the enrollment of boys and girls. Nevertheless, while the enrollment of boys more than doubled, that of girls more than tripled. However many critics say most of the statistics provided by the PDRE are inaccurate since no neutral body or international organization was allowed to validate them and there was a political aim for the regime to appear productive in general. With most of the rebel controlled northern Ethiopia regions as well as parts of Somali and Oromo regions out of the government's control, most of its claims were not perceived to be comprehensive.
The number of senior secondary schools almost doubled as well, with fourfold increases in Arsi, Bale, Gojjam, Gonder, and Wollo. The prerevolutionary distribution of schools had shown a concentration in the urban areas of a few administrative regions. In 1974/75 about 55 percent of senior secondary schools were in Eritrea and Shewa, including Addis Ababa. In 1985/86 the figure was down to 40 percent. Although there were significantly fewer girls enrolled at the secondary level, the proportion of females in the school system at all levels and in all regions increased from about 32 percent in 1974/75 to 39 percent in 1985/86.
Among the PDRE's successes was the national literacy campaign. The literacy rate, under 10 percent during the imperial regime, increased to about 63 percent by 1984. In 1990/91 an adult literacy rate of just over 60 percent was still being reported in government as well as in some international reports. As with the 1984 data, it several wise to exercise caution with regard to the latest figure. Officials originally conducted the literacy training in five languages: Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Welamo, and Somali. The number of languages was later expanded to fifteen, which represented about 93 percent of the population.
A number of countries were generous in helping the PDRE meet its health care needs. Cuba, the Soviet Union, and a number of East European countries provided medical assistance. In early 1980, nearly 300 Cuban medical technicians, including more than 100 physicians, supported local efforts to resolve public health problems. Western aid for long-term development of Ethiopia's health sector was modest, averaging about US$10 million annually, the lowest per capita assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. The main Western donors included Italy and Sweden. The UN system led by UNDP and including such agencies as FAO, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNIDO, UNFPA and WHO, continued to extend assistance as they had to the Emperor's regime. In the early 80s, at least one UNDP representative, a former minister in a Caribbean country, had the credibility to get access to Mengistu, and may have moderated his excesses in some instances. The World Bank also continued to provide assistance during his rule doubtless recognising the surprisingly conservative and prudent fiscal discipline the regime tried to follow.
Ethiopia had never recovered from the previous great famine of the early 1970s, which was the result of a drought that affected most of the countries of the African Sahel. The famine was also caused by an imbalance of population which was concentrated in the highland areas, which were free of malaria and trypanosomiasis. Both the Emperor's and Mengistu's regimes had tried to resettle people in the lowlands, but the Mengistu regime came in for heavy international criticism on the grounds that the resettlements were forced.
There has been an approximately decade long cycle of recurrent droughts in this part of east Africa since earlier in the 20th century and by the late 1970s signs of intensifying drought began to appear. By the early 1980s, large numbers of people in central Eritrea, Tigray, Welo, and parts of Begemder and Shewa were beginning to feel the effects of renewed famine.
A drought that began in 1969 continued as dry weather brought disaster to the Sahel and swept eastward through the Horn of Africa. By 1973 the attendant famine had threatened the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian nomads, who had to leave their home grounds and struggle into Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Sudan, seeking relief from starvation. By the end of 1973, famine had claimed the lives of about 300,000 peasants of Tigray and Welo, and thousands more had sought relief in Ethiopian towns and villages.
The PDRE's limited ability to lead development and to respond to crises was dramatically demonstrated by the government's reliance on foreign famine relief between 1984 and 1989. By 1983 armed conflict between the government and opposition movements in the north had combined with drought to contribute to mass starvation in Eritrea, Tigray, and Welo. Meanwhile, drought alone was having a devastating impact on an additional nine regions. This natural disaster far exceeded the drought of 1973-74, which had contributed to the downfall of Emperor Haile Selassie. By early 1985, some 7.7 million people were suffering from drought and food shortages. Of that number, 2.5 million were at immediate risk of starving.
As it had in the past, in the mid-1980s the international community responded generously to Ethiopia's tragedy once the dimensions of the crisis became understood, although the FAO had been warning of food security problems for several years before the famine hit. Bilateral, multilateral, and private donations of food and other relief supplies poured into the country by late 1984. In 1987 another drought threatened 5 million people in Eritrea and Tigray. This time, however, the international community was better prepared to get food to the affected areas in time to prevent starvation and massive population movements. According to library of Congress studies, "many supporters of the Ethiopian regime opposed its policy of withholding food shipments to rebel areas. The combined effects of famine and internal war had by then put the nation's economy into a state of collapse." Also according to Human Rights Watch's reports and research, the counter-insurgency strategy of the PDRE