Drought in Ethiopia: humanitarian partners call for more action

Humanitarian partners this week (March 24, 2016) launched a 90-day campaign to raise awareness on the urgent need for an additional funding for the El-Nino induced drought in Ethiopia in an effort to address the humanitarian resource gap in the country.

While Ethiopia’s 2016 1.4 billion US dollars appeal has received over 758 million US dollars from the Ethiopian government and the international community, significant life-saving gaps remain across all sectors. The four months lead time to get relief commodities to people in need means that action is required now. Ms.Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onuchie, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia said, “Ethiopia is currently contending with one of the most serious climatic shocks in recorded history with ten million people facing lost harvests and livestock as well as severe water shortages and health risks,” “We are launching this campaign to advocate for increased funding commensurate with the scale and severity of this crisis,” she added.

The El Nino has significantly impacted weather patterns in Ethiopia for the past several months, limiting agricultural production, straining livelihoods and exacerbating food insecurity among vulnerable households. In Ethiopia the government estimates that 10.2 million people, on top of the 8 million that will receive support through the governments’ safety net programme, will need humanitarian assistance this year at a cost of $1.4 billion, due to a drought that has been exacerbated by El Niño.

So far, the government has allocated 381 million US dollars and the Productive Safety Net Programme, run by the government in partnership with the World Bank, is aiming to assist about 8 million people. The government of Ethiopia has also rushed forward the opening of its new railway line—the countries only one—just to bring food supplies from Djibouti on the Horn of Africa coast. Nevertheless, the government is also urging other donors to support the drought mitigation efforts.

Despite the challenges that Ethiopia faces, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator commended the Government of Ethiopia for its efforts of  reaching those who needed food aid. She noted that the government is one of the largest financial contributors to the crisis so far and also leads in the coordination of a complex inter-sector response, which uses government systems and relies on national capacity. She added, “The Government’s vision for development, enshrined in the second Growth and Transformation Plan, promises to steer Ethiopia further down its already remarkable path of progress.”

The United States’ Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) has recently released a report on its assessment of the current drought in Ethiopia..  At a media briefing held on (March 19, 2016), the Director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), Jeremy Konyndyk also commended the impressive drought response activities by the Ethiopian government and said “We have far better capability to manage such kind of situation we had 13 years ago. We have also seen a clear leadership by the government of Ethiopia to tackle this drought.”

Ethiopia right from the early days of the drought has been working to tackle the situation more on its own capabilities. This has been much due to the country’s extensive food security network, Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), a welfare-for-work initiative that employs seven million people in public infrastructure projects in return for food or cash, and its national food reserve and early warning systems.

James Jeffrey, journalist and writer on the Horn of Africa, in his reflections published in Foreign Affairs Magazine this week (March 23, 2016) said Ethiopia’s ability and means for providing emergency relief has changed beyond recognition since 1984. Over the last decade, it has grown at about ten percent annually, giving the government enough cash to mitigate the crisis. He further said “initially, Ethiopia tried what many in the West complain developing countries don’t do enough of: tackling the situation at the route. Ethiopia employed a sophisticated food security network developed over the decades since the images of the 1984 famine came to typify the country.” Although today’s Ethiopia by comparison is a much more politically and economically stable country, capable of self-help and robust action, he added — “but there are always limits.”

 

In fact, there are limits to what Ethiopia can prepare for.

Accordingly, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in his recent interview (March 17, 2016) with The Associated Press, has urged the international community to donate more toward emergency food aid for millions of people. He said, “Ethiopia should not be neglected by any means despite all the other crises that are going on elsewhere in the world; My country deserves more support because we are also sheltering some 750,000 refugees from neighboring countries that need food aid,” “If something goes wrong,” the Premier added, “ it is the international community who has not come in. The aid provided to us so far is very little and it often came very late. I urge organizations like UNICEF to come in if they think this is a worst case scenario. Just talking is not a solution.”

In connection Ms. Ahunna observed that drought response is not just about saving lives it is about protecting development gains – gains which the government and its development partners have worked tirelessly to build up over decades. “We need to rally urgently to protect the development gains of Ethiopia over the past decade and ensure the country remains on its remarkable development trajectory. Urgent and substantial investment in the humanitarian crisis response this year is the only way to ensure this and we must act now,” she concludes.