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Drought threatens millions in Ethiopia

20 November 2015


Devastated: Mume, whose family farms in East Hararghe, Ethiopia, with her children among their failed sorghum crop

Devastated: Mume, whose family farms in East Hararghe, Ethiopia, with her children among their failed sorghum crop

MORE than eight million people in northern Ethiopia are now relying on food aid to survive in the midst of a severe drought.

The lack of rain, driven by the meteorological phenomenon El Niño, has led to widespread food insecurity. In some areas, the situation is so bad that two babies are dying every day, the UN says.

The failure of the rains has meant that yields from this year’s harvest are up to 90 per cent lower than previous years; many fear that the drought will be the worst since the 1984 disaster that prompted the international Band Aid relief effort.

“A timely response to the emergency is critical,” Stephen O’Brien, an emergency relief coordinator for the UN, said. “If we don’t act today, we face an even graver situation tomorrow, with more immense needs in 2016.”

“World Vision Ethiopia (WVE) is moving quickly to ensure that children and their communities receive the required support needed to continue to thrive despite this crisis,” the national director, Margaret Schuler, said. The charity is appealing for £14 million in aid to help it support 871,000 people in some of the worst-affected regions.

The Ethiopian government has asked for £284 million to help it cope with the catastrophe, but so far has received only £130 million.

"In some of the affected areas, WVE has started emergency nutrition and WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] intervention,” Ms Schuler said. 

Ethiopia would, however, continue to suffer from bouts of food insecurity, because of structural issues such as its agriculture system being predominantly rain-fed. While WVE was working with the authorities and other agencies to improve lives in Ethiopia, it could not on its own “provide a safety net for resilience during such difficult times”.

None the less, Ethiopia is in a significantly better place to handle droughts than in 1984, when it was racked by civil war. Today, the country is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

The BBC has reported that a rudimentary social-security system, under which rural farmers are paid by the government for public works, such as digging wells when harvests are bad, has meant fewer people now starve to death when the rains fail.

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