As a critical planting season approaches in Ethiopia, government and nonprofit agencies are rushing to implement measures to ensure that recent severe weather conditions don’t continue to impede harvests. Seasonal flooding followed by a long drought, which experts say is the result of climate change, have led to famine in much of the country.
International aid has already poured in for months as news of the drought has spread. The Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, where a majority of residents depend on agriculture for survival, has received food aid and other support from organizations such as A Glimmer of Hope and the Tigray Development Association. Now, groups are providing potentially life-saving agricultural assistance in hopes of saving the planting season.
Here are the latest developments in the efforts to mitigate the effects of Ethiopia’s drought:
Farmers across Ethiopia have begun small-scale irrigations efforts to help crops survive as they wait for rain. According to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Farming and Natural Resources, Ethiopia irrigated more than 2.6 million hectares in the last fiscal year, and it now has plans to irrigate up to 5 million hectares.
Officials want every farmer to have an alternative water source as part of a plan to double their crops. Increasing production would help to ensure food security for Ethiopians now and in the future.
First, farmers and agriculture officials must overcome significant obstacles from the last growing season that include the underuse of fertilizer on farmland that was irrigated, broken water pumps, and a lack of market access for farmers who were irrigating their crops.
Relief for older Ethiopians
The drought has particularly impacted older Ethiopians men and women, many of whom were already living in poverty. With markets poorly stocked and damaged crops that are not providing income, they have been forced to travel long distances to find firewood, water, and food. Younger members of their communities, who are facing their own difficulties, have not been as willing or able to help older Ethiopians.
Due to funding from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the nonprofit group HelpAge International is assisting 17,000 Ethiopian households by providing goats, sheep, farming tools, and seeds so that they can develop a livelihood.
HelpAge is also giving food rations to older men and women, fixing failed water sources, and teaching Ethiopians about the importance of hygiene and water purification.
Protecting the planting season
Officials warn that La Niña, the counterpart of El Niño that brings cool water into the Pacific Ocean, could herald more flooding from October onward. In a recent press release, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization warned that worsening floods could lead to disease in plants and livestock. Amadou Allahoury, a UN representative in Ethiopia, called the situation “critical.”
Planting for the important “meher” rainy season should occur in September and October, and UN officials want to ensure that farmers get seeds in the ground. The fall meher season produces about 85 percent of the country’s food supply, and a successful planting season in 2016 could mean that millions of Ethiopians would not require food assistance in the following year.
The UN already has provided assistance to 127,000 households in the Amhara, Afar, Oromia, Tigray, Somali, and SNNP regions. Almost 37,000 metric tons of seed and 6 million potato cuttings have been handed out, and more will be distributed this month. Families that own livestock have been provided with feed, fodder seed for pastures, and repaired watering areas. The UN has supported the government by vaccinating more than 1 million animals, although many remain weakened by the drought.
More international aid
In August, the United States announced that it was providing Ethiopia with $35 million in humanitarian aid, adding to the more than $750 million it has provided since the drought began in 2015. The money will be used by USAID, the UN, and NGO partners in part to distribute more than 6,000 metric tons of therapeutic and supplementary food. It will be used to increase access to safe water facilities, as many Ethiopians spend hours each day traveling to clean water sources—if they are even available.
While the aid will bring short-term relief, it is also designed to protect the long-term interests of Ethiopian’s food supply and to help make the country more food secure and resilient against future droughts and flooding. USAID and its partners will assist farmers and will also train health workers, improve the channels that get critical supplies to people in need, and develop programs that deal with gender-based violence in areas affected by drought.
Prior to the drought, the Ethiopian government and outside partners had made successful efforts to strengthen the country through education, improvements in children’s health, and better nutrition nationwide. Officials worry that the drought could create major setbacks, and they hope that intensive aid efforts will preserve some of the country’s progress.