Millions at risk as Ethiopia suffers worst drought in a generation – Oxfam

The Ethiopian government estimates that 10.2 million people will need humanitarian assistance this year, at a cost of $1.4 billion. The El Niño weather system, on the back of 12 to 18 months of erratic or failed rains, has caused the worst drought in Ethiopia since the mid1980s. 

January 29, 2016

Millions of people are at risk as Ethiopia suffers its worst drought in thirty years. In some parts of the country, women and girls are walking for two days to get water for their families and animals. 

In Siti zone in the east of the country, many people have told Oxfam that they are dependent on food aid to survive but some are sharing this with their sheep and goats in a desperate attempt to keep their animals alive as well. 

The Ethiopian government estimates that 10.2 million people will need humanitarian assistance this year, at a cost of $1.4 billion. The El Niño weather system, on the back of 12 to 18 months of erratic or failed rains, has caused the worst drought in Ethiopia since the mid1980s. 

Ann Witteveen, Oxfam Canada’s Humanitarian Manager said: "Ethiopians are watching their crops wither and animals starve to death, all the while knowing they don’t have enough food and water for their families. Women and girls are particularly affected, often having to walk for days to find water.  

"The Government of Ethiopia is doing what it can, but the enormous scale of this crisis requires urgent and significant funding from donors to complement their efforts. It’s been clear for months that this drought would have a devastating effect on Ethiopia. The Canadian Government has provided some support but more funding is needed to help the country and its people cope."

Oxfam is helping over 160,000 people in three areas of the country by trucking in water, repairing boreholes and wells, and giving out animal feed. The aid agency is planning to reach 777,000 people but needs $25 million (£14 million) to do so. 

Ethiopia’s ‘belg’ rains are due to begin in a couple of months but even if normal rainfall occurs, it will take time for people to replenish their herds and cultivate crops. 

Fatuma Hersi had a herd of 300 sheep and goats of which just seven remain. The mother of eight who is now seeking help at a site for internally displaced people in Siti, said: "There have been other droughts. But this one is the worst I have seen. We are here waiting for support."

Ethiopia is one of a number of countries struggling to cope with the effects of one of the strongest El Niños on record. Along with food shortages in southern Africa, Papua New Guinea and Central America, it has also caused floods in Paraguay and Bolivia. 

El Niño is a natural phenomenon that occurs periodically. Although it is not directly caused by climate change, global warming makes it more likely that strong El Niños will develop. And in turn, El Niños involve the release of a large amount of heat from the Pacific Ocean, exacerbating climate change. 

Any short term response to feed those left hungry by this year’s El Niño needs to be matched with medium and long term plans to tackle climate change which makes super El Niños more likely. 

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Melanie Gallant
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