Save the Children: Ethiopia drought a ‘wake-up call’ to futureproof crops

Chronic dryness shows Horn of Africa is unprepared for onset of changing climate this century, says charity

People from the Borena tribe drive their camels and livestock across parched, stony ground in Dire District in the southern Oromiya Region, one of the areas hardest hit by the drought. They are making their way to wells in the Goraye Crater, one of the few remaining water sources in the district. Traditional water sources have dried up as a result of the drought, forcing pastoralist communities, to walk vast distances in search of remaining functioning wells. Entire herds have been wiped out in the drought. In January 2006 in Ethiopia, some 1.75 million people are facing starvation and disease and more than 737,000 urgently need water as a result of severe and worsening drought in the Horn of Africa. Two years of failed rains have led to water scarcity, crop failures and livestock deaths. More than 8 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti now require emergency humanitarian assistance. Some 1.5 million children under age five are especially at risk. In Ethiopia's Somali and Oromiya regions, more than 56,000 children under five face increased malnutrition. Measles is also on the rise. As families move in search of food, children are forced to drop out of school. UNICEF has launched an appeal for US $16 million to fund emergency drought relief across the region over the next three months. Working with Governments, the World Food Programme, NGOs and other partners, UNICEF is supporting therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes; the provision of safe water and sanitation, immunization and vitamin A; and protection and education initiatives. Additionally, in Ethiopia, UNICEF is supporting a measles vaccination campaign targeting more than 750,000 children under five.

People from the Borena tribe drive their camels and livestock across parched, stony ground in Dire District in the southern Oromiya Region, one of the areas hardest hit by the drought. (Flickr/ UNICEF Ethiopia)

By Alex Pashley

Ethiopia is experiencing its worst drought in 30 years.

Failed rains have devastated crops as dry conditions spread from the remote northeast region and Somalia to more populous highlands. Famine looms.

The unfolding humanitarian crisis is on a par with the Syria conflict, according to Save the Children, and reveals the country’s grave exposure to global warming.

“This drought is a wake-up call to say the adaptation and resilience measures we are doing so far are not adequate to really strengthen peoples’ livelihoods, so they can withstand these droughts on their own resources,” said country director John Graham by phone from Addis Adaba.

Scale of affected areas as of January 5 2016 (screengrab: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

The international community must dramatically scale up funds available for drought-resistant crops to better prepare it for future dryness, he said.

Trials to plant more resilient foods like sorghum or the Andean grain quinoa have shown successes, but are too small in size to prevent malnutrition.

Ethiopia can apply for funds through bodies like the Global Environment Facility or UN-backed Green Climate Fund. Developed countries have promised to mobilise $100bn a year for developing nations by 2020 – half for low emissions projects and half for adapting to climate impacts.

A recent study by club of rich nations the OECD found $62bn flowed in 2013-14, of which a sixth was spent on adaptation projects. But the definition of what counts as climate finance is not settled, with many experts saying the true figure was lower.

Without emergency funding in Ethiopia, decades of falling poverty and child mortality rates could be reversed this year following the drought. An estimated 10 million are in need of food aid, while 350,000 babies are set to be born in the next six months.

In 1984 a brutal famine killed 1 million.

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