Unrelenting drought forces Ethiopia to appeal for international aid

A farmer shows his failed crops and farmland in the Megenta area of Afar, Ethiopia. The farmer said he has lost 100 percent of his crops. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

After months of denying that there is a problem, Ethiopia has finally made an appeal to international donors to address what some are calling its worst drought in a half-century. At least 10 million people need help despite massive improvements in the decades since the last famine that grabbed international headlines and spurred the LiveAid concert.

Despite the insistence by NGOs and the U.N. that international assistance was needed in the country, the Ethiopian government tried to address the drought on its own. It spent $272 million last year, but the size of the problem and the limits of its economy proved to be too much to handle alone.

“Our government is committed to allocating the budget and mobilizing any resources to the target groups,” said Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonen, to the media during a visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “The action of the international community is very critical and that should be on time.”

The United States pledged $97 million on Sunday, a small portion of the U.N.’s estimated need of $1.4 billion for this year. The new money will, in part, bring 176,000 metric tons of food to 4 million people. Overall, only one-third of the total U.N. appeal is funded. The World Food Program alone needs another $500 million to continue its food aid work beyond April.

Ban stayed in Ethiopia over the weekend to observe the government’s response and the impact of the drought. He also sought to bring attention to the problem and shore up the funds. He visited a town in Ziway Dudga district, a region where last year’s harvest failed. Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program focuses heavily on the region by providing food and money to people who are chronically food insecure. Nearly two-thirds of the people in the district rely on food aid.

Ethiopia proudly showed off the program as evidence of how far it has come since the 1984 famine that killed more than 1 million people. When drought struck the Horn of Africa region in 2011, the country was able to deal with the problem with its improved social safety net and other initiatives that improved farming productivity. Neighboring Somalia, in contrast, witnessed famine in the south – the result of its instability caused by years of fighting led by Islamist terrorist group al-Shabab. Despite warnings, aid came only when the situation reached crisis levels and an estimated 260,000 people died.

The past three rain seasons have not brought enough rain in Ethiopia. The short rains are supposed to come. If they do, they will provide a short respite from the food shortages caused by the drought, though likely not enough to significantly reduce the projected 400,000 children likely to suffer from severe malnutrition this year. Pressure is on for donors to do more and prevent a crisis from unfolding much like what happened in 2011.

“We know it will pass, and the situation will improve. This crisis will end,” Ban said of the drought. “Until it does, I urge you to make the investment that is needed now, to support the Ethiopian government and people through the difficult times ahead, and to build for the future,” the secretary-general said.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.