Aid agencies from around the world have united to help Ethiopia’s government bring relief to regions that are recovering from the most severe drought that the country has experienced in 50 years. In addition to fundraising, local and international partners have joined together to provide and distribute food and other resources across Ethiopia in hopes of preventing starvation, illness, and death. As a result of these efforts, experts say that what could have been a disastrous humanitarian crisis has been averted.
Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onuchie, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, said in a press statement in March that the drought was expected to affect 10 million people and that farmers risked the loss of harvests and livestock. In addition, millions faced health risks and water shortages. Experts believe that the effects of the drought, which is related to one of the strongest El Niño occurrences that has ever been recorded and three failed rainy seasons, became noticeable in early 2015.
Here are some of the major relief efforts that have helped the region to survive the drought:
In March, the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies began a 90-day campaign to raise $700 million and increase awareness of Ethiopia’s crisis. The UN reported that the need for humanitarian aid in Ethiopia tripled in less than 18 months as the drought worsened, which led to a request for a large amount of funding. The Ethiopian government made a global appeal for $1.4 billion—not only to obtain supplies for people in need, but also to protect gains in development that have been in the works for decades. UN leaders stated that there was an urgent need for “substantial investment in the humanitarian crisis response” to ensure the country remained on its “remarkable development trajectory.”
- A Glimmer of Hope, which works with the Tigray Development Association to address humanitarian and infrastructure issues in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, started food programs at 13 schools in two Tigray villages. As a result, almost 9,000 children and their families received grain during the worst four months of the drought. Due to these efforts, children were able to stay in school rather than drop out in order to help their families find means to obtain food. Keeping children in school is vital to Ethiopia’s future, as education offers the younger generation a way out of poverty and helps them to succeed as adults. A Glimmer of Hope will continue to assist the people of Tigray to attain long-term health and resilience as they recover from the effects of the drought.
- Unlike in past droughts, the Ethiopian government has long been preparing to handle this one. The government has spent years developing a national food reserve and warning system to alert local administrative organizations of an impending drought. In recent decades, Ethiopia also has built up its infrastructure through the Productive Safety Net Programme, a welfare-to-work initiative that employed 6 million people who helped to develop public infrastructure and who were paid in food or cash. The country also has opened its first railway line, which runs between Djibouti and Addis Ababa in order to deliver food aid across Ethiopia. The government committed almost $200 million to help victims of the drought and sought help from other countries when the number of people affected by the drought greatly increased. While these efforts have shored up Ethiopia’s cities, its many rural regions—including Tigray and Afar—remain vulnerable. Government and nonprofit leaders continue to monitor the drought and the food security situation there, knowing that keeping people healthy and nourished during difficult weather conditions is vital to preserving the country’s economic future.
In June, it was widely reported that a large-scale drought had been avoided in Ethiopia due to efforts by the country’s government and a free flow of international aid from agencies such as Catholic Relief Services. The agency led a group of international aid groups that provided food to almost 3 million people. Leaders familiar with the decades of drought in Ethiopia, including the severe drought and resulting famine in the mid-1980s that garnered international attention, said that earlier droughts were worse because food and other aid could not reach Ethiopia’s far-flung towns and villages due to government interference and fighters within the villages who would not allow it to be distributed. Although the recent drought was much worse and more geographically widespread, Ethiopia’s improved health infrastructure had workers in place in local villages to handle the relief work. As a result, communities were educated about malnutrition issues, and aid was better dispensed through year-round food distribution centers that were already established. Choice Okoro, the leader of the Strategic Communications Unit for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia, said in a press statement, “Drought is going to be a recurrent problem, and Ethiopia is not the only country dealing with drought. But 1984 won’t happen again.”
- Agencies are preparing for another potential drought season in the fall of 2016. They have given farmers seeds and urged them to plant them as soon as possible. In addition, the agencies have teams ready to mobilize to provide health education and nutrition services, as well as humanitarian aid.