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Famine: Forecasters Say Drought May Linger in Ethiopia June 3, 2017

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By Sora Halake, VOA, June 02, 2017 

FILE - People wait for food and water in the Warder district in the Somali region of Ethiopia, Jan. 28, 2017.

FILE – People wait for food and water in the Warder district in the Somali region of Ethiopia, Jan. 28, 2017.

Forecasters are warning that Ethiopia could face more rainfall deficits, deepening a drought that has left nearly eight million of the country’s people in need of aid.

Dr. Chris Funk is a climate scientist at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) whose research focuses on African and Asian countries. He told VOA’s Horn of Africa Service that there is a 50 percent chance another El Nino weather event could form in the Pacific Ocean this year.

“If it’s a moderate or strong El Nino, that would definitely tilt towards odd, below normal rain for northern Ethiopia,” he said. “That is what happened unfortunately in 2015, when we had a strong El Nino that reduced rains in northern and central Ethiopia and we are concerned about that possibility.”

Ethiopia tends to receive its heaviest rain between mid-June and mid-September, especially in the north.

The moderate rainy season that runs from February to May was disappointing, said Dula Shanko, deputy director for the Ethiopian meteorological department.

“March rain was very poor for areas that get rain [in] this time,” he said. “In April and May it shows little progress but not enough.”

He added that rain was sparse in the southern regions of Somali and Oromia.

Out of 7.78 million Ethiopians in need of food assistance, 3.6 million are in Oromia.

Lower than normal rains in 2015 and 2016 contributed to the ongoing food crisis by killing livestock and reducing farm output. The drought has forced farmers and pastoralists to search for water, pushing students to drop out of school in some areas.

The impact has been especially harsh in Oromia, where massive protests against the government took place two years ago and officials have maintained a state of emergency. In this region, Borana, Guji, West Guji East, West Harerge, North Shewa, East Shewa, Arsi and Bale provinces are highly affected, according to a government report.

Ethiopian officials say they are working to counter the drought by providing food for both animals and people.

“The combined effort from local, federal government and citizens averted the country from falling to famine before it happens [and] saved countless lives by allocating millions of dollars for this purpose,” said Debebe Zewude, a public officer for the National Disaster and Risk Management Commission (NDRMC).

But government intervention only goes so far when it doesn’t rain.

“Carcasses of cows, goats litter over the roads throughout the districts,” said Dida Guyo of Nagelle Borana, a city in Oromia. “I would say thousands of animals are dead due to drought from this area.”

The situation is grave, said Borbor Bule, a resident of Dubluk, a town in the south of the country.

“This is our only source of income,” he added. “We have lost our proud breeds. I have lost more than 10 animals. More than 50 animals are dead in my village alone.”

“I have never seen anything like this in my life,” he said. “… God forbid, we are fearing for human life.”


 

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Famine: Ethiopia feeling the impact of successive serious droughts May 21, 2017

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  • At the end of April, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission reported the number of people in need of immediate food assistance had reached 7.7 million, an increase by 2.1 million from the commission’s estimate at the beginning of the year.
  • In 2015 and 2016, Ethiopia experienced its worst drought in half a century in which 10.2 million people needed emergency aid, while 7.9 million people were chronically food insecure and dependent on an ongoing relief program. Still reeling from the effect of that devastating episode, which was induced by El Niño, an ocean-warming climatic phenomena with global impact on weather patterns, swathes of the country have experienced rain failure again.
  • The drought is also causing an increase in the number of internal refugees. According to the International Organization for Migration there are currently 696,000 displaced persons at 456 sites throughout Ethiopia.
  • Exacerbating the problem, year-on-year food inflation has reached 12.6 per cent, the highest since January 2016

Ethiopia feeling the impact of successive serious droughts

THE MESSENGER,NEWS & INVESTIGATIONS FROM EAST AFRICA, 18 MAY 2017

 

With a recent increase in the number of people needing emergency food assistance, the impact of Ethiopia’s drought is worsening. And that comes only around a year after one of the country’s most severe dry spells in decades.

At the end of April, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission reported the number of people in need of immediate food assistance had reached 7.7 million, an increase by 2.1 million from the commission’s estimate at the beginning of the year. At that time, $948 million dollars was requested to help the affected people — who are mostly in the south and east of the country — under half of which has been contributed.

In the worst hit Somali regional state, an estimated 785,000 people are suffering from hunger, malnutrition and water shortages. After visiting the area in late February, UN Central Emergency Response Fund’s Stephen O’Brien stressed the importance of prompt action. “Millions of people’s lives, livelihoods and wellbeing depend on continued donor support,” he said. “Time lost means lives lost.”

Exacerbating the problem, year-on-year food inflation has reached 12.6 per cent, the highest since January 2016, according to Ethiopia’s Central Statistical Agency, with major staples such as teff, maize, wheat, sorghum and barley exhibiting increases. The government had previously pledged to keep the inflation rate in the single-digit range.

Although central bank governor Teklewold Atnafu told lawmakers in April that prices were under control, economic research firm Business Monitor International expects soaring inflation in coming months because of reduced agricultural output due to the lack of rain. However, the statistics agency says that despite the drought an increase in production has been registered in the last main Meher season (June to September 2016) harvesting season with close to 290.4 million quintals of crops yielded. That means production showed an 8.8 percent increase from last year, which is likely to be roughly in line with Ethiopia’s consistently high official economic growth figures.

Food inflation is up in spite of official reports of increased food production.

An assessment of the secondary Belg season (roughly, February to April) will be used as a basis for a revised Humanitarian Requirements Document that is expected to be released in July. Planners hope that early publication of the document, capturing the impact of the Belg rains, will help mobilize donations to prevent a projected break in the delivery of food aid.

In 2015 and 2016, Ethiopia experienced its worst drought in half a century in which 10.2 million people needed emergency aid, while 7.9 million people were chronically food insecure and dependent on an ongoing relief program. Still reeling from the effect of that devastating episode, which was induced by El Niño, an ocean-warming climatic phenomena with global impact on weather patterns, swathes of the country have experienced rain failure again.

According to the World Bank, it often takes as many as four years for households to recover from a drought because of asset depletion. The non-governmental organization Save the Children says the previous crisis left more than half the nation’s pastoralists destitute due to loss of livestock. An April announcement of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization predicts that El Niño has a 50 to 60 per cent probability of returning this year.

 In 2015 and 2016, Ethiopia experienced its worst drought in half a century.

The ongoing Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) currently provides regular food or cash transfers for 8 million Ethiopians, half of whom live in currently drought-affected areas. During severe rain shortages, the program expands to include new beneficiaries, as well as increasing the period of support from five to seven months of the year. To deal with the extra burden, one of the main donors, the World Bank, approved an extra $100 million for the PNSP on May 2, the same amount it topped the program up with last year. The PSNP recipients, plus the 7.7 people in need of emergency support, amount to more than one-sixth of Ethiopia’s population.

The drought is also causing an increase in the number of internal refugees. According to the International Organization for Migration there are currently 696,000 displaced persons at 456 sites throughout Ethiopia. And, additionally, the country hosted 830,000 refugees from other countries as of March. Because neighboring South Sudan and Somalia are deeply impacted by the conflict and drought, respectively, an increase in the number of refugees is likely.

UN OCHA’s latest humanitarian funding update, from May 10, says there is a $507 million shortfall, of which $291m is needed for food aid. After avoiding catastrophe last year, donors praised Ethiopia’s government for diverting as much as $700 million to the relief operation. (The main sources were alleged to be cash allocated for road development and funds that had accrued in an oil stabilization fund). Mitiku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s disaster commission, is now urging donors to step up their funding, while the government is again mobilizing all the resources it can. “We all must work hand in hand to tackle this problem,” he says.

But even if that occurs, while the country is still managing to avoid the dreaded famine classification, the impact of successive serious droughts on a fragile and resource-stretched nation is mounting.


 

WP: Ethiopia is facing a killer drought. But it’s going almost unnoticed. May 2, 2017

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On Thursday, the Ethiopian government increased its count of the number of people requiring emergency food aid from 5.6 million to 7.7 million, a move that aid agencies say was long overdue. The figure is expected to rise further as southeast Ethiopia confronts another fierce drought.


But with food crises erupting across the continent and the government’s budget strained by last year’s drought, the money isn’t there to fight it. There could eventually be as many people in Ethiopia needing emergency food assistance as in Somalia and South Sudan combined.

There have also been accusations that the government is playing down the severity of the crisis to keep the country from looking bad internationally. During the earlier drought, it was months before the government admitted there was a problem, in part because Ethiopia had gained a reputation as Africa’s rising star and didn’t want to go back to being associated with drought and famine.

The contrast is clear in the bustling capital, Addis Ababa, where rainy skies and a hive of construction projects make it feel thousands of miles away from any drought. While Pizza Hut restaurants are set to soon open in the capital, thousands of children in the arid southeast suffer from acute malnutrition, and cholera is ripping through the relief camps.


Ethiopia is facing a killer drought. But it’s going almost unnoticed.

World Food Program supplies are distributed in a village in Jijiga district, part of Ethiopia’s Somali region. (Michael Tewelde/World Food Program)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The announcement by the United Nations in March that 20 million people in four countries were teetering on the edge of famine stunned the world and rammed home the breadth of the humanitarian crisis faced by so many in 2017.

Yet even as donors struggle to meet the severe needs in the war-torn nations of Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, another crisis, more environmental in nature, is taking place nearby — nearly unnoticed.

On Thursday, the Ethiopian government increased its count of the number of people requiring emergency food aid from 5.6 million to 7.7 million, a move that aid agencies say was long overdue. The figure is expected to rise further as southeast Ethiopia confronts another fierce drought.

But with food crises erupting across the continent and the government’s budget strained by last year’s drought, the money isn’t there to fight it. There could eventually be as many people in Ethiopia needing emergency food assistance as in Somalia and South Sudan combined.

 Ethiopia, long associated with a devastating famine in the 1980s, returned to the headlines last year when it was hit by severe drought in the highland region, affecting 10.2 million people. Food aid poured in, the government spent hundreds of millions of its own money, and famine was averted.

Now it’s the turn of the lowland region, particularly the area bordering Somalia, where a drought brought on by warming temperatures in the Indian Ocean has ravaged the flocks of the herders in the region and left people without food.

With their sheep and goats mostly dead, the nomads are clustered in camps surviving on aid from the government and international agencies — but that food is about to run out.

“This response capacity that is currently holding it at bay is about to be overwhelmed,” said Charlie Mason, humanitarian director of Save the Children, which is particularly active in Ethiopia’s impoverished Somali region. “We’ve spent all the money we’ve got, basically.”

With donors focused on Somalia across the border, little international aid has found its way to the Ethiopian areas hit by that drought. “I think it’s partly because there are other priorities, and they are not signaling loudly enough to donor offices,” Mason said.

According to a document detailing Ethiopian’s humanitarian needs that was drawn up in January by the government and aid agencies, Ethiopia needs nearly $1 billion to confront the crisis, more than half of which it still lacks. That figure also does not take into account the revised estimates in the numbers of people requiring aid.

 During last year’s drought, Ethiopia came up with more than $400 million of its own money to fight off famine, but this year, it has been able to commit only $47 million, probably because of an exhausted budget.

There have also been accusations that the government is playing down the severity of the crisis to keep the country from looking bad internationally. During the earlier drought, it was months before the government admitted there was a problem, in part because Ethiopia had gained a reputation as Africa’s rising star and didn’t want to go back to being associated with drought and famine.

The contrast is clear in the bustling capital, Addis Ababa, where rainy skies and a hive of construction projects make it feel thousands of miles away from any drought. While Pizza Hut restaurants are set to soon open in the capital, thousands of children in the arid southeast suffer from acute malnutrition, and cholera is ripping through the relief camps.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP), which is working in Ethiopia’s drought-hit Somali region, has started cutting its food rations to 80 percent. It is short $121 million for its Ethiopia operation this year, and the money is expected to run out over the summer.

If no new money arrives, the rations could be cut to 420 calories for the whole day — the equivalent of a burger. The government’s food contribution will probably suffer a similar fate.

“It’s stretching the humanitarian community,” WFP regional spokeswoman Challiss McDonough said, referring to the string of crises in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere on the continent. “I don’t think of it as donor fatigue. Quite frankly, the donors have been extremely generous, continuing to be so — but they are overwhelmed.”

 There is also the fact that the Horn of Africa has been incredibly unlucky these past few years in terms of weather. Though famine was averted, many parts of the Ethiopian highlands are still recovering from the 2015-2016 drought, which was attributed to the El Niño ocean-warming phenomenon in the Pacific.

The U.N. World Meteorological Organization said Friday that there is a 50 percent to 60 percent chance that the Pacific will see another strong warming trend this year, which means Ethiopia’s highlands will be slammed again at a time when world resources are scarcer than ever.

“The droughts are coming more frequently and more often and they are worse — and that’s climate change. That’s very, very clear,” McDonough said. “You talk to any farmer how are the rains now compared to 20-30 years ago, they see a difference in their lifetimes, particularly the older ones.”

Even while they have one of the smallest carbon footprints on the globe, herders’ fragile existence in the arid climate of the Horn of Africa is probably the most threatened by climate change.

Adding to aid organizations’ concerns is a proposal by the Trump administration to slash U.S. contributions to international aid institutions, including the WFP. The U.S. government is the largest donor to the program. The proposed cuts, part of the president’s 2018 budget blueprint, are likely to face stiff opposition in Congress.


Paul Schemm is the Post’s overnight foreign editor based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, joining the paper in 2016. He previously worked for the Associated Press as North Africa chief correspondent based in Morocco and prior to that in Cairo as part of the Middle East regional bureau.

IRIN: Displaced and neglected: Ethiopia’s desperate drought victims April 20, 2017

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IDP camp Somali region, Ethiopia

James Jeffrey/IRIN
James Jeffrey

Freelance journalist based in Addis Ababa and regular contributor to IRIN

Dead camels rot on the outskirts of informal settlements in Ethiopia’s rain-starved Somali region as their owners, once proudly self-sufficient pastoralists, turn to government aid to stay alive.

Ethiopia is facing a drought so terrible that nomadic herders, the hardiest of survivors, have been pushed to the brink. The lucky ones receive supplies of food and brackish water, but the majority, who have settled in spontaneous camps in the remotest reaches, must look after themselves.

“We call this drought sima,” said 82-year-old Abdu Karim. “It means ‘everyone is affected’. Even when I was a child, no one spoke of a drought like this one.”

Across the Horn of Africa, people are struggling after three successive years of failed rains. In Somalia and Yemen, there is real fear of famine. While Ethiopia’s remote southern region has been spared the warfare that has deepened the crisis confronting its neighbours, the drought has been no less brutal.

“Having lost most of their livestock, they have also spent out the money they had in reserve to try to keep their last few animals alive,” said Charlie Mason, humanitarian director at Save the Children.

“For those who have lost everything, all they can now do is go to a government assistance site for food and water.”

Livestock are the backbone of the region’s economy. Pastoralists here are estimated to have lost in excess of $200 million-worth of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels. That is not only a blow to their wealth, but also deprives them of the meat and milk that is the mainstay of the pastoralist life-support system.

Last year, more than 10 million people were affected by an El Niño-induced drought. The government spent an unprecedented $700 million, while the international community made up the rest of the $1.8 billion needed to meet their needs.

This year, the appeal is for $948 million to help 5.6 million drought-affected people, mainly in the southern and eastern parts of the country. So far, only $23.7 million has been received.

“Last year’s response by the government was pretty remarkable,” said World Vision’s Ethiopia director, Edward Brown. “We dodged a bullet. But now the funding gaps are larger on both sides. The UN’s ability is constrained as it looks for big donors – you’ve already got the US talking of slashing foreign aid.”

Under strain

The government has a well-established safety net programme managed by the World Bank that supports the chronically food insecure, typically with cash-for-work projects.

But it doesn’t pick up those affected by sudden shocks like the current drought. They fall under a new and separate programme, which is struggling to register all those in need.

There are 58 settlements for the internally displaced in the Somali region currently receiving government aid. But that’s only a fraction of the 222 sites containing nearly 400,000 displaced people identified in a survey by the International Organization for Migration.

Forty-four percent of these camps reported no access to food, and only 31 percent had a water source within a 20-minute walk.

“People were surviving from what they could forage to eat or sell but now there is nothing left,” said one senior aid worker who visited a settlement 70 kilometres east of the southern town of Dolo Ado, where 650 displaced pastoralist families weren’t receiving any aid at all.

The only livestock left alive in the camp was one skinny cow, its rib cage undulating through its skin, and her new-born calf. In some shelters people were reported as too weak to move.

Pastoralist IDPs in Ethiopia
James Jeffrey/IRIN

“There’s a logical reason to limiting the number of temporary assistance sites – because otherwise getting assistance to people scattered over such a large area becomes a massive challenge,” said Mason.

“The authorities are doing their best. This is a natural disaster, which has affected a huge number of people over an area larger than the UK or New Zealand, and we’re in a race against the clock to get enough food and clean water to enough people in time.”

But given the security restrictions on travel in the Somali region, and the well-known nervousness aid agencies have over antagonising the government, it is very hard to gauge how many people may have fallen through the cracks and are not receiving assistance.

Refugees vs IDPs

The Ethiopian government is far more open over the refugees it helps. It has maintained an open-door policy and currently shelters an estimated 800,000.

Just outside Dolo Ado, where the Ethiopian border intersects with Kenya and Somalia, are two enormous camps. With rows of corrugated iron roofs glinting in the sun, each houses about 40,000 Somalis escaping their own food crisis and ongoing conflict.

“I came with my family because of drought and fear,” said 51-year-old Hasaam Muhammed Ali. He arrived in Buramino camp in 2012 with his two wives and 17 children. “People have different opinions but I know what is there – I will not go back. Perhaps, if the country gets peace like Ethiopia, I might.”

Refugees complain of headaches and itchy skin due to the pervading heat of 38 – 42 degrees Celsius, and of a recent reduction in their monthly allowance of cereals and grains from 16 to 13.5 kilograms.

However, they are guaranteed that ration, along with water, health and education services – none of which is available to IDPs in a settlement on the outskirts of Dolo Ado.

“We don’t oppose support for refugees – they should be helped as they face bigger problems,” said 70-year-old Abiyu Alsow. “But we are frustrated as we aren’t getting anything from the government or NGOs.”

Abiyu spoke amid a cluster of women, children, and a few old men beside makeshift domed shelters fashioned out of sticks and fabric. Husbands were away either trying to source money from relatives, looking for daily labour in the town, or making charcoal for family use and to sell.

“When people cross borders, the world is more interested,” said Hamidu Jalleh from the UN’s emergency aid coordination office, OCHA. “Especially if they are fleeing conflict, it is a far more captivating issue. But the issue of internally displaced persons doesn’t [generate] the same attention.”

In the Somali region’s northern Siti zone, IDP camps from droughts in 2015 and 2016 are still full. It takes between seven and 10 years for pastoralists to rebuild flocks and herds after losses of more than 40 percent, according to research by the International Livestock Research Institute and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Humanitarian responses around the world are managing to get people through these massive crises to prevent loss of life,” said Mason. “But there’s not enough financial backing to get people back on their feet again.”

And Ethiopia’s crisis is far from over. The main spring Gu/Ganna rains have finally begun in parts of the Somali region, but they were a month late.

The forecast is that they will be below average and won’t regenerate pasture sufficiently for the pastoralists, who have lost so much, to rebuild their lives.


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OXFAM: As drought grips Ethiopia, a mother waits to name her newborn

IRIN: Ethiopia in 2017: New drought: 15.9m people in famine crisis March 19, 2017

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Farmers, traders and consumers across East and Southern Africa are feeling the impact of consecutive seasons of drought that have scorched harvests and ruined livelihoods.

Ethiopia: The strongest El Niño phenomenon on record led to an extreme drought in 2016, with 10.2 million in need of food aid. A new drought means 2017 could be just as dire, throwing an additional 5.7 million people into crisis. Farmers and herders found their resilience tested to the limit last year. They have very limited resources left to cope with the current crisis. More at IRIN: Drought in Africa.

OCHA: Ethiopia: New drought puts recovery and neighbouring countries at risk

 

2016 was a challenging year for Ethiopia. But 2017 could be equally dire, as the country has been hit by a new drought. As 2.4 million farmers and herders cannot sustainably practice their livelihoods and reinvigorate their already drought-stricken farms, the new drought is throwing an additional 5.7 million people into crisis.

At the launch of the Humanitarian Requirements Document, UN Humanitarian Chief Stephen O’Brien called for US$948 million to meet people’s survival and livelihoods needs in 2017.

“We need to act now before it is too late,” he said. “We have no time to lose. Livestock are already dying, pastoralists and farmers are already fleeing their homes in search of water and pasture, and hunger and malnutrition levels will rise soon if assistance does not arrive on time.”


Source: 2017 Humanitarian Requirements Document

Back-to-back cycles of poor or non-existent rainfall since 2015, coupled with the strongest El Niño on record, led to Ethiopia’s worst drought in decades. The new drought has hit southern and eastern regions, and pastoralists and farmers are fleeing their homes to find water and pasture.

The new drought extends beyond Ethiopia’s borders—in Kenya and Somalia, it has already pushed 1.3 million people and 5 million people into hunger, respectively. Severe water and pasture shortages in Somalia have resulted in livestock deaths, disrupted livelihoods and caused massive food shortages.

The worst drought in half a century has stricken large parts of Africa. More than 50 million people are threatened by hunger and few countries have been hit as hard as Ethiopia. May 14, 2016

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Odaa Oromoo

 

Ethiopia:

For a long time, the government insisted that the country could handle the situation on its own. Indeed, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn first requested assistance from the international community in March. But international aid organizations were also ordered not to speak publicly about the true scale of the disaster, the liberal magazine Addis Standard recently reported — a newspaper that is viewed with some skepticism by the government.

The authoritarian regime doesn’t tolerate criticism: Members of the opposition are persecuted and unruly journalists imprisoned. Nor are oppositional voices to be heard in parliament, where the governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) holds 100 percent of the seats. The party liberated Ethiopia in 1991 from the socialist terror rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but itself likewise acts with a heavy hand.

What Ethiopia needs is an agricultural revolution, but the government is doing too little to mechanize agriculture and increase productivity. In fact, it has done the opposite by clinging to its strategy of industrialization — one that includes the leasing of giant farmlands to foreign agricultural companies which then export foodstuffs in grand fashion from the country at a time when it must import hundreds of thousands of tons of wheat in order to compensate for the crop losses caused by the drought.


‘Death Awaits’: Africa Faces Worst Drought in Half a Century

By Bartholomäus Grill

Photo Gallery: Drought in EthiopiaPhotos
Jens Grossmann / Welthungerhilfe

The worst drought in half a century has stricken large parts of Africa — a consequence of El Niño and high population growth. More than 50 million people are threatened by hunger and few countries have been hit as hard as Ethiopia.

Herdsman Ighale Utban used to be a relatively prosperous man. Three years ago, he owned around a hundred goats. Now, though, all but five of them have died of thirst at a dried-up watering hole, victims of the worst drought seen in Ethiopia and large parts of Africa in a half-century.

Utban, a wiry man of 36 years, belongs to a nomadic people known as the Afar, who spend their lives wandering through the eponymously named state in northeastern Ethiopia. “This is the worst time I’ve experienced in my life,” he says. On some days, he doesn’t know how to provide for himself and his seven-member family.”We can no longer wander,” Utban says, “because death awaits out there.” For now, he’ll have to remain in Lii, a scattered little settlement in which several families have erected their makeshift huts. Lii means “scorching hot earth.”

‘First the Livestock Die, Then the People’

Since time immemorial, shepherds have wandered with their animals through the endless expanses of the Danakil desert. They live primarily off of meat and milk, and it was always a meagre existence. But with the current drought, which has lasted for over a year, their very existence is threatened. “First the livestock die, then the people,” Utban says.

The American relief organization USAID estimates that in Afar alone, over a half million cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and camels have perished. Reservoirs are empty, pastures dried up, feed reserves nearly exhausted. With no rain, grass no longer grows. Many nomads are selling their emaciated livestock, but oversupply has led to a 50 percent decline in prices.

Currently, millions of African farmers and herders are suffering similar fates to Utban’s. The United Nations estimates that more than 50 million people in Africa are acutely threatened by famine. After years of hope for increased growth and prosperity, the people are once again suffering from poverty and malnutrition.

State of Emergency

The governments of Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland have already declared states of emergency, and massive crop losses have caused food prices to explode in South Africa. Particularly hard stricken are the countries in the southern part of the continent as well as around the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and especially Ethiopia.

Meteorologists believe the natural disaster is linked to a climate phenomenon that returns once every two to seven years known as El Niño, or the Christ child, a disruption of the normal sea and air currents that wreaks havoc on global weather patterns. The El Niño experienced in 2015-2016 has been particularly strong.

Mohamed Nasir is the clan elder in the Lii nomad settlement. He says he’s never heard of El Niño before. “The lack of water is our main problem — that’s why we’re fighting for our lives.” Nasir doesn’t have any explanation for why the weather has gone crazy. For why drops of rain no longer fall from the ice-gray skies here in the mountains, while only a three days’ walk away, the plains are flooded. For why his home region has been plagued by periodic droughts for more than eight years now. “Perhaps it’s God’s will,” he says.

Nasir has just finished praying for rain, bending over in the dust according to Muslim ritual, with grains of sand still stuck to his forehead. He’s 61 years old, but the worry lines in his face make him look a lot older. He sits in the shadows of a camel thorn tree, looking east. A hot wind blows from the Red Sea out over the karstic, grayish-brown countryside. Over the horizon, the empty promise of a few cirrostratus clouds can be seen. He’s been waiting for rain for a year now.

An Image at Odds with Emerging Ethiopia

This year’s crisis is worse than the one that befell the area in 1985, Nasir says. Back then, the most catastrophic year in Ethiopian history, around a million people died of famine.

Nasir says there have already been deaths this year in his clan’s region. He points to the mountainside behind and says, “Nine children are buried there.” Other herders also speak of the first starvation victims in Afar, but it isn’t possible to confirm the reports.

The government in Addis Ababa denies the deaths. It wants to overcome Ethiopia’s image as a country eternally beset by famine and instead present itself as an emerging nation. The Ethiopian economy, after all, is among the fastest growing in the world, with annual growth rates as high as 10 percent in recent years.

Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, has transformed itself into a successful development dictatorship based on the Chinese model. It wants to achieve middle-income country status by 2025 and establish itself firmly as an emerging nation. Pictures of starving children with large, sorrowful eyes do not fit with that image.

The country’s boom is visible in the capital city of Addis Ababa, which is currently undergoing an incredibly fast process of modernization. High rises and giant new districts are sprouting up everywhere, new motorways criss-cross the capital and a light-rail system has even been built — the first anywhere south of the Sahara. Numerous new industrial enterprises are located at the city’s outskirts, where they produce textiles and leather goods for the global market.

Covering Up the Scale of the Disaster

For a long time, the government insisted that the country could handle the situation on its own. Indeed, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn first requested assistance from the international community in March. But international aid organizations were also ordered not to speak publicly about the true scale of the disaster, the liberal magazine Addis Standard recently reported — a newspaper that is viewed with some skepticism by the government.

The authoritarian regime doesn’t tolerate criticism: Members of the opposition are persecuted and unruly journalists imprisoned. Nor are oppositional voices to be heard in parliament, where the governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) holds 100 percent of the seats. The party liberated Ethiopia in 1991 from the socialist terror rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but itself likewise acts with a heavy hand.

The country’s Western allies ignore the continuing human rights violations because Ethiopia, a bastion of Christianity, is an important military partner in the battle against Islamist terror on the Horn of Africa.

In praising itself, the government often points to the lessons learned from the 1984-85 famine. In response, Ethiopia set up a disaster early warning system and created emergency grain reserves. The country built dams, irrigation systems and roads. Around 7 million small farmers now receive crisis aid through a state safety net.

Esubalew Meberate is proud of these achievements. As the head of an administrative district with 257,000 residents, he’s responsible for 37 municipalities, 22 of which have been affected by the drought. He receives visitors in his office in the city of Gohala, high in the mountains in the state of Amhara. Meberate wears a stylish black leather jacket and a white casual shirt. He’s a typical representative of the ruling class: young, power conscious and a tad arrogant. He admits that ensuring water supply is the greatest challenge. The problem is that a dearth of transport routes makes it impossible for tanker trucks to reach all the villages. Still, he says, the government is working to address it. “Our economy is growing despite the drought and our agricultural potential is nowhere near exhausted.”

‘We No Longer Have Enough to Eat’

Yet even as the elite in the capital city enthuse about economic growth, in the mountains of Amhara, the Ethiopian heartland, people like farmer Destay Zegeye are suffering. “We no longer have enough to eat,” she complains. Last year, she says, the belg, or short rainy season, failed to materialize. Neither did kiremt, the long rainy season. Zegeye says she was only able to harvest a hundred kilograms of teff, the country’s most important food grain. She was able to keep two sacks for her seven-member household — far too little for survival.

Zegeye, 36, wears a tattered, patchwork dress with a cross dangling from her neck. She walks across the field in front of her hut, a half-hectare (1.2 acre), dry and dusty square littered with stones.

She is struggling to get her family through this period of struggle. Sometimes her husband earns a few birr as a day laborer for a government employment creation program focusing on the construction of schools, roads and storm water tanks. He also recently sold two of their four oxen. The family also gets rations from the government — 15 kilograms of grains per month and household. Somehow they manage to get by, but for how much longer?

All around the mountainous country, you find the same bleak image: cracked soil hard as cement, rocky fields and dried-up creek beds — no green patches for as far as the eye can see. In between are impoverished mountain villages that are constantly growing: Places like Qualisa, for example. Just 15 years ago, only 1,500 people lived here, but today a local employee of the German relief organization German Agro Aid (Welthungerhilfe) estimates that figure to be closer to 12,000. Such growth is the result of enormous settlement pressure. The once forested mountainsides have been clear-cut because of the growing population’s need for firewood and construction material.

Ethiopia Needs an Agricultural Revolution

At the same time, agricultural production has failed to keep up with the pace of population growth. Since the massive famine that struck Ethiopia in 1984-85, the country’s population has swollen from 41 million to 102 million. One-third of the population is already considered to be malnourished today: There simply isn’t enough to go around in many parts of the country.

African droughtsZoom

DER SPIEGEL

African droughts

Much of that situation is attributable to the country’s antiquated system of subsistence farming. Millions of small farmers are incapable of yielding larger harvests because of their inability to access investment capital, equipment, fertilizers and high-quality seeds. In addition, their property belongs to the state, meaning they can cultivate it, but are unable to use it as collateral on any potential loans. They thus slave away just as in biblical times, using hoes, oxen and wooden plows to till low-yield soil.

What Ethiopia needs is an agricultural revolution, but the government is doing too little to mechanize agriculture and increase productivity. In fact, it has done the opposite by clinging to its strategy of industrialization — one that includes the leasing of giant farmlands to foreign agricultural companies which then export foodstuffs in grand fashion from the country at a time when it must import hundreds of thousands of tons of wheat in order to compensate for the crop losses caused by the drought.

Will Famine Become Chronic?

There also appears to be little concern in political power circles about annual population growth of 2.5 percent. The attitude seems to be: the more people it has, the stronger Ethiopia will be. What this overlooks is that the rapid recent population increase has been eroding successes in development policy. Agriculture experts warn that if the Ethiopian population swells to 150 million people by 2035 as some are predicting, famine could become a chronic problem.

Nor is this problem limited to Ethiopia. It could also be a harbinger of further food crises in Africa. “We are simply too many people,” says Ayenew Ferede, 37, the head of a kebele, the smallest administrative unit in Ethiopia. Seven-thousand people live in his ward, and 2,000 receive government emergency aid. “People are starving because we have run out of everything — water, grain reserves, livestock feed.”Ferede has traveled for four hours by foot here to the small town of Hamusit in the hunt for aid. He carries a heavy burden of responsibility. He, too, reports of famine deaths. “If it doesn’t rain soon, we are all going to leave.” But where will they go? “To the next kebele, to the city, across the sea to you in Europe. Someplace where there’s water and food.”

Though it has rained in recent days in some parts of the country, Ferede has little hope. “It’s too little, too late and the worst is yet to come.”


http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/drought-threatens-50-million-people-in-africa-a-1091684.html