A severe drought in Northern Ethiopia has resulted in a situation where farmers cannot grow food for people or livestock, leaving millions of people without food. However, international and local organizations are responding with supplies and other aid to help local residents.
While the consequences of the drought have not yet reached the level of the 1984 drought, which left more than 1 million Ethiopians dead, some analysts say that it could be the worst drought the country has experienced in 50 years. Aid workers have reported treating numerous malnourished people, including mothers who cannot produce enough milk for their infants.
So far, the Ethiopian government and other relief efforts have brought some aid to people on the verge of starving. One group, the Tigray Development Association (TDA) has distributed fodder to farmers in the southern part of Tigray, which is one of the hardest hit zones in Ethiopia. TDA worked with youth in northwest Tigray, who prepared the fodder, and then distributed it in the southern region. This effort to protect farmers’ cattle until rainfall picks up was made possible with a 5-million birr donation from Care International, according to Teklewoyni Assefa, TDA director-general. TDA also has used 30 million birr from USAID to bring emergency relief food aid into the region.
The Ethiopian government provides an annual emergency-feeding program for up to 8 million people, but current estimates show that as many as 18 million people are facing food crises because of the drought. More than half of the country’s income comes from agriculture, and about three-fourths of Ethiopia’s 90 million people depend on agriculture to survive. In some areas, more than 90 percent of crops have died due to the drought, and least 1 million cattle also have died nationwide because of the lack of food and water.
Here is more information about the drought:
What caused it?
A number of weather conditions have contributed to the lack of rainfall in Ethiopia, which usually has a three-month rainy season. The Tigray region, on the other hand, typically suffers a more erratic rain schedule.
Some of the blame goes to El Niño, an ocean-warming trend whose 2015 weather pattern was the strongest in 20 years. In Ethiopia, rainfall has been extremely low, which experts say has been compounded by global warming that is resulting in droughts in some areas of the world and heavy rainfall in others.
Why doesn’t the world know?
In 1984, pictures of starving people in Ethiopia were spread around the world in major newspapers and magazines, such as National Geographic, resulting in high-profile aid efforts that included singer Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World” recording that raised more than $63 million to end famine in Africa.
This time, information about the drought got to the media late, according to a welfare organization that raises money to assist humanitarian efforts in Tigray. Others blame the Ethiopian government, which they say is fearful of creating a reputation that the country is famine-stricken and prone to disaster, for failing to disseminate information about an impending crisis. While the government says that conditions for a famine have not been met, it has recently admitted that it needs help providing food supplies and medical care on top of the $360 million it already has distributed.
“People are not starving, but they’re close to starving,” Sebhatu Seyoum, the social and development coordinator for Adigrat Diocesan Catholic Secretariat. “We need to address this moment right now, before it gets worse.”
Lack of food an ongoing problem
Ethiopia regularly struggles with shocking climate events that negatively affect crops, and its population has become accustomed to feeling insecure about having adequate food. According to UNICEF, more than 265,000 children needed to be treated for severe malnutrition in 2015. About 44 percent of Ethiopian children younger than 5 years old suffer from severe chronic malnutrition, and almost 30 percent are underweight.
Aid workers warn that unless the international community responds with more aid, the consequences of this drought could be severe. John Graham, who has worked with Save the Children in Ethiopia since 1984, said the world’s response has not been as generous this time.
The Ethiopian government has stated that it still needs about $600 million of its $1.4 billion appeal to address the drought and impending famine, Graham said. If the government has to provide the money itself, the funds will be siphoned from other critical areas, such as education and healthcare, where the country has made great progress.
Graham hopes that the consequences of the current drought will be headed off before images similar to those sent out in 1984 are recreated. “Is it really necessary in 2106 that you have to see that?” he asked a press outlet.