Response to Ethiopia's drought--a story of success or anguish?

Author:Jeffrey, James
Position:Countryfiles: Ethiopia

Ethiopia's government has mitigated some of the fallout of the country's worst drought in decades--but such achievements appear precarious at best.

Inside a health clinic in the north Ethiopian region of Tigray, a nurse wraps a special tape measure around the upper arm of nine-month-old Aixiet cradled in her mother's arms.

According to the nurse, the tape measure reveals that the child is severely malnourished.

"I can't produce enough milk as there's not enough food for me to eat at home," says the 32-year-old mother. "Can I get something here for my baby?" The nurse shakes her head.


Little is available in Tigray because of severe drought plaguing the region.

The drought is considered by some to be the worst the country has seen in 50 years.

But images of this most recent catastrophe pale in comparison to those transmitted far and wide back in 1984, when drought and famine swept through Ethiopia and millions of dollars were pledged regionally and internationally to support the relief effort.

This time around, the Ethiopian government is dealing with the drought differently. Its response--without much international media coverage and the flood of financial support that characterised the situation back in the 1980s--is just enough to deal with the pending crisis.

And as the drought has increasingly taken hold, it is slowly emerging that Ethiopia can't go it alone when faced with such a calamity.

"The present situation here keeps me awake at night," says John Graham, Save the Children's Ethiopia country director. "The government has shouldered much of the financial burden so far, but if they don't get more immediate help from foreign donors they may be forced to redirect funding from other vital areas, including education and maternal and child health programmes, in order to buy life-saving food aid."

A series of failed rainy seasons triggered by the ocean-warming El Nino weather system has resulted in severe water shortages, devastating food production and livelihoods across vast swaths of Ethiopia.

During the harvest period, between November 2015 and January 2016, food crops have dropped by 50%-90% in some parts and failed completely in others. Hundreds of thousands of livestock are estimated to have perished.

Ethiopia is not alone in the Horn of Africa in suffering the ravages of El Nino: neighbouring Somalia has about 3m people hit by crop failures and food shortages. Outside of the Horn, Zimbabwe is now asking for...

To continue reading