Boom­ing Ethiopia can’t han­dle drought?

Some 8.5 mil­lion peo­ple are in need of food aid; only $334 mil­lion has been re­ceived of the to­tal hu­man­i­tar­ian bill of $1.26 bil­lion


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Ethiopia can­not seem to es­cape the blight of drought, no mat­ter how hard it tries. De­spite im­pres­sive eco­nomic growth and decades of ca­pac­ity build­ing, it faces an­other hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis as one of the worst droughts in liv­ing mem­ory scorches the Horn of Africa.

At the be­gin­ning of the year, 5.6 mil­lion Ethiopi­ans were in need of food aid, pri­mar­ily in the south and south­east of the coun­try. That num­ber re­cently jumped to 8.5 mil­lion.

An ad­di­tional headache is that this year’s re­sponse by the gov­ern­ment and in­ter­na­tional part­ners is prov­ing less de­ci­sive than last year’s ef­fort. In 2016, more than 10 mil­lion peo­ple were reached, food aid poured in, and the gov­ern­ment spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of its own money avert­ing a ma­jor hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe.

Why are the num­bers in need in­creas­ing?

The Jan­uary es­ti­mate of 5.6 mil­lion came from the gov­ern­ment’s Hu­man­i­tar­ian Re­quire­ments Doc­u­ment, an an­nual as­sess­ment in col­lab­o­ra­tion with in­ter­na­tional part­ners de­tail­ing Ethiopia’s hu­man­i­tar­ian needs. The re­vised fig­ure fol­lowed spring rains in April that pe­tered out too soon, tak­ing any hopes of re­vival with them.

“The sit­u­a­tion is un­prece­dented,” said Sam Wood, Save the Chil­dren’s hu­man­i­tar­ian di­rec­tor in Ethiopia. “That was the third failed rainy sea­son in a row, so it’s a cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of failed rains hit­ting vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties.

“Ethiopia has made lots of progress, but when you have a prob­lem of this sort of scale, du­ra­tion and scope, any sys­tem is go­ing to be over­whelmed.”

Adding to con­cerns is the chance the Ha­gaya/deyr short rains (Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber), ac­count­ing for up to 35 per

cent of an­nual rain­fall in the south­east, could prove a dud too due to the con­tin­u­ing El Niño ef­fect.

The cur­rent hu­man­i­tar­ian bill is $1.26 bil­lion. So far only $334 mil­lion has been re­ceived.

Why the cash short­fall?

At the be­gin­ning of the year, the United Na­tions warned that 20 mil­lion peo­ple were at risk of star­va­tion in South Su­dan, So­ma­lia, Ye­men and north­east Nige­ria.

“Aid bud­gets from donor coun­tries have al­ready com­mit­ted most of their fund­ing re­spond­ing to other con­flicts or dis­as­ters for this year, and this re­sulted in less fund­ing for drought-af­fected peo­ple in Ethiopia,” said Geno Te­ofilo with the Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil.

“There is also donor fa­tigue re­gard­ing droughts in East Africa,” he added.

Oth­ers note how droughts don’t seize the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion to the same ex­tent as dis­as­ters like earth­quakes and hur­ri­canes, mean­ing there’s less mo­ti­va­tion to dig into one’s pock­ets.

This year, the Ethiopian gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted $147 mil­lion com­pared with last year’s un­prece­dented $700 mil­lion.

“The gov­ern­ment has many de­vel­op­ment de­mands,” said Ethiopia’s State Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture and com­mis­sioner for its Na­tional Dis­as­ter Risk Man­age­ment Com­mis­sion Mi­tiku Kassa. “If we di­vert too many funds to hu­man­i­tar­ian needs, it will be dif­fi­cult to con­tinue growth, so we have to re­quest sup­port from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.’’

What are the con­se­quences on the ground?

Pas­toral­ists in Ethiopia’s So­mali Re­gion, bear­ing the brunt of this drought, have lost hun­dreds of thou­sands of sheep, goats and camels. Of­ten whole flocks have died, rep­re­sent­ing a fam­ily’s en­tire liveli­hood, leav­ing peo­ple no choice but to re­treat to makeshift set­tle­ments, sur­viv­ing on aid from the gov­ern­ment and in­ter­na­tional agen­cies.

A sur­vey con­ducted by the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion be­tween May and June 2017 iden­ti­fied 264 of these sites con­tain­ing around 577,711 in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons.

Over­whelmed by num­bers and ad­di­tion­ally chal­lenged by di­min­ish­ing funds, aid agen­cies be­gan cut­ting food ra­tions and faced run­ning out of money en­tirely this July, un­til last­minute do­na­tions from Bri­tain, the EU, and the US guar­an­teed food ship­ments through to the end of the year.

At the same time, the World Food Pro­gramme was able to in­crease its hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port from 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple to 3.3 mil­lion in the So­mali Re­gion.

For now, deaths on a large scale have been lim­ited to an­i­mals, though in­fant mal­nu­tri­tion rates are in­creas­ing to dan­ger­ous lev­els, ac­com­pa­nied by re­ports of cholera out­breaks.

How is the Ethiopian gov­ern­ment han­dling the sit­u­a­tion?

The gov­ern­ment has faced ac­cu­sa­tions it played down the sever­ity of the cri­sis to keep the coun­try from look­ing bad in­ter­na­tion­ally. It was too con­scious, crit­ics say, of pro­tect­ing the nar­ra­tive of Ethiopia’s re­mark­able eco­nomic re­nais­sance over the past decade — one that has en­ticed for­eign in­vestors.

“Since 2015, we have been work­ing with in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies, mak­ing as­sess­ments to­gether and dis­clos­ing the num­bers of ben­e­fi­cia­ries,” Mr Kassa hit back. “So, noth­ing can be hid­den. The gov­ern­ment has recog­nised how se­ri­ous the sit­u­a­tion is.”

Some aid work­ers in the So­mali Re­gion, how­ever, have spo­ken about an­i­mos­ity be­tween the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in Ad­dis Ababa and the semi-au­ton­o­mous re­gional gov­ern­ment, re­sult­ing in a dis­con­nect that has in­creased the risks faced by the vul­ner­a­ble.

But even if na­tional and re­gional gov­ern­ments were in per­fect har­mony, the lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges would re­main huge. The So­mali Re­gion is hot and arid, with few good roads and in­fras­truc­ture, and has a sig­nif­i­cant no­madic pop­u­la­tion. That makes it harder for lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies to con­duct ac­cu­rate as­sess­ments to en­sure ef­fec­tive ac­tion.

What else is hav­ing an im­pact on the re­sponse?

Ear­lier this year, in­ter­com­mu­nity con­flict broke out be­tween eth­nic So­mali and Oromo in the So­mali Re­gion, re­sult­ing in dozens of deaths and more than 50,000 peo­ple dis­placed. It be­came un­safe for smaller aid agen­cies to move around. On top of all this, Ethiopia hosts more than 838,000 refugees from So­ma­lia, Su­dan, South Su­dan, Eritrea and other cri­sis-rid­den coun­tries.

Mean­while, al­though the Ethiopian gov­ern­ment felt con­fi­dent enough to end a state of emer­gency ear­lier this year, fol­low­ing more than a year of po­lit­i­cal protests and blood­shed, dis­con­tent has not dis­ap­peared. Griev­ances over land re­al­lo­ca­tion and eth­nic fed­er­al­ism — both fac­tors dur­ing re­cent clashes in the So­mali Re­gion — as well as gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, the lack of jobs, free­dom of ex­pres­sion, and po­lit­i­cal trans­parency, all heave be­neath the sur­face.

While both the US and Bri­tain — two of the big­gest donors — have con­tin­ued sup­port­ing Ethiopia’s hu­man­i­tar­ian needs so far, both their gov­ern­ments face con­tin­u­ing pres­sure to re­duce over­seas aid. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s 2018 bud­get blueprint prom­ises to slash Amer­i­can con­tri­bu­tions to inc Pr

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If we di­vert too many funds to hu­man­i­tar­ian needs, it will be dif­fi­cult to con­tinue growth.” Mi­tiku Kassa, Ethiopia’s State Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture

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