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Why is there drought?

As with most disasters the causes of the current drought in Ethiopia and the response to it are complex. The following analysis is from a recent article by Martin Plaut, a veteran journalist specialising in East Africa.
Ms Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onuchie, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia, recently 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,”
Ethiopia’s $1.4 billion appeal has received over $758 from the Ethiopian government and the international community.
The El Nino has significantly impacted weather patterns in Ethiopia for the past months, limiting agricultural production, straining livelihoods and exacerbating food insecurity among vulnerable households. 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 assisting about 8 million people. The Government of Ethiopia also rushed forward the opening of its new railway line to bring food supplies from Djibouti. Nevertheless, the government is also urging other donors to support its 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.”
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, the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), a welfare-for-work initiative that employs eight 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) 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 root. 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 Dessalegn, in his recent interview (March 17) with The Associated Press, 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. “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.” He said if the international community extends support, that’s something the country welcomes, if not, he added, “My Government, whether that comes in or not, will do everything at its disposal so that this drought never generates into famine.”
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.
The crisis is expected to worsen until August when people hope to harvest crops they will plant in June and hope to catch the summer rains. If the rains come………

Abdella has taken advantage of the introduction of new cattle breeds that produce more milk and are physically stronger than the traditional cattle of the region.

Turning Adversity into Opportunity

Abdella lives on the edge of the eastern city of Dire Dawa. His family have been farming using traditional methods for generations. However, in the past two decades the weather has changed, longer spells of dry weather have interrupted the rainy seasons which could formerly be relied upon by farmers to enable them to sow their crops. Cattle and livestock now face less access to water and traditionally grown crops are less suited to the new long dry spells.
With drought soil becomes compacted, when it does rain there is an increased risk of water run-off causing flood and damage to crops. The irony of this double threat is not lost on farmers whose lives have been turned upside down and the future of their families placed in constant jeopardy.
Abdella was one of the first farmers in the region to respond to an invitation by Partners for Change to learn new farming methods, to work together with his neighbours to create shared solutions to the new threats posed by the changing climate.
Despite the serious threat to his livelihood Abdella has transformed the way he farms. He has learnt to diversify, how to plant crops that are more drought resistant such as sorghum and has set up a small dairy farm with improved breeds of cows. He has also learnt how to sow seeds when the rains appear, rather than wait until the traditional sowing season. In this way he often manages to have two harvests. Crucial to this has been learning how to dig irrigation channels to water his crops when it starts raining. He has also learnt simple but highly effective water harvesting techniques.
Abdella has also learnt how to run a dairy farm. He has taken advantage of the introduction of new cattle breeds that produce more milk and are physically stronger than the traditional cattle of the region.
Crucially Abdella has learnt how to work with his neighbours. Previously they eyed each other with suspicion and saw each other as competitors rather than allies. Partners for Change brought farmers together to discuss their experiences and to find new ways of working with the changing weather rather than hoping it is business as usual.
With all of these new activities Abdella has changed his thinking and approach to farming and in doing so has successfully turned adversity into opportunity.