Ethiopia is often cited as having one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and a rapidly expanding manufacturing base. But the East African nation of more than 100 million people has long struggled to feed itself and images from the 1980s drought and famine still stick in the minds of many around the world to this day.
It’s a well-known fact that things have changed a lot today in Ethiopia, with a middle- class population growing fast and farmers now able to feed and send their children to schools. But still, the government continues to appeal for international aid when climate-driven humanitarian crises happen from time to time.
“I look forward to a time when we Ethiopians are able to contribute whatever we can from our surplus areas and help those in need without waiting for anyone’s hand from abroad,” Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia’s Disaster Prevention Chief, told 7Dnews. “This aid pattern will not and should not continue. We are already witnessing donor fatigue. Plus, humanitarian needs elsewhere in the world are reducing the attention needed here.”
Ethiopia’s government officials and its partners are already ringing alarm bells regarding the current year as the southern autumn rains again underperformed, though not at the level of ‘drought’, meaning that levels of food insecurity and the dangers of acute malnutrition in the lowlands remain high.
Meteorologists, including the National Meteorological Agency, are predicting that the current El Nino phenomenon may lead to reduced performance of spring rains, particularly over southern and eastern lowland areas.
According to Relief Web, Ethiopia is entering the fourth year of exceptional drought emergency this year. In 2017 severe drought conditions in the lowland, mostly pastoral, areas rendered hundreds of thousands destitute and displaced. In the worst season in 2016, up to 12 million Ethiopians were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
Things may be even worse this year!
An additional humanitarian need has arisen due to intra-ethnic conflicts around the country, with several hundred thousand Ethiopians displaced over the past year. Aid partners are also projecting humanitarian needs and financial requirements are likely to remain similarly high in the next two years (2019-2020).
Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, told the AP news agency in 2017 that Ethiopia is well-prepared to face the impact of climate change. “But after having three successive years of El Nino, the country is unable to deal with it alone,” he stressed.
The difficult situation in Ethiopia has long been compounded by similar challenges in neighbouring Somalia and the influx of refugees from South Sudan. So far, no official human death toll figure has been made available since the latest series of droughts afflicted the country four years ago but several hundreds of thousands of cattle have died, posing a serious blow to the semi-nomadic population’s livelihood.
However, things are not all bleak.
Once heavily degraded areas in the northern Tigray region are again becoming green and better, supporting local livelihoods. It still faces droughts but has built resilience over the years through conservation efforts and humanitarian aid now focuses less on the kind of emergency response seen in other parts of the country.
Ethiopia is responding to the drought in various ways. Mainly using food or cash hand-outs it has managed to provide aid to 18.2 million people in the past year alone. This has been the largest response the government has ever carried out. In addition, there is the Productive Safety Net Programme, which is described as the largest of its kind in the world. This programme has continued to support some eight million Ethiopians, four million of them in drought-affected areas.
The government has made achieving food security one of the main targets in its five-year plan, Growth and Transformation Plan 2. “Strengthening disaster prevention and response ability as well as ensuring adequate and timely transfers and promoting resilience among chronically food insecure households is our focus,” the country’s Agricultural Transformation Agency said. “Our Plan 2 also seeks to address issues of nutrition in a more systematic way. In addition to chronically food insecure households, Plan 2 identifies pastoralists and agro-pastoralists as requiring specific support.”
Though food security continues to be an elusive goal in Ethiopia the government aims to raise the economy to the level of a middle-income country by 2025. It remains to be seen if this target can be met in eight years but for the time being Ethiopia continues to depend on foreign food aid to feed all its people.