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A Massive Drought in Ethiopia Again?

Ethiopia is experiencing its worst drought since the 1960s. Photo credit: AddisAbabaOnline

Ethiopia is experiencing its worst drought since the 1960s. Photo credit: AddisAbabaOnline

It sounds so familiar—drought in Ethiopia puts millions of people at risk of starvation. How could this be when in recent years Ethiopia was lauded as a country on the rise–one of the bright spots in Sub Saharan Africa? After all, Ethiopia has experienced economic growth of 10 percent in recent years. How can millions be at risk of starvation again and what can be done?

Those who are old enough to remember the Live Aid concert in 1985, which raised millions of dollars to provide food to starving Ethiopians, might be thinking we had solved the problem of famine, particularly in Ethiopia.

But this drought is different–experts say it is the worst Ethiopian drought since the 1960s. Its severity stems from this year’s El Niño, which is shifting rain patterns, causing massive drought in some areas and unusually heavy rains elsewhere.

Despite Ethiopia’s  strong economic growth, 80 percent of its population subsists on rain-fed agriculture. French media report that crop production in regions such as Afar and Tigray has dropped by 50 to 90 percent in some parts and failed completely in others. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of livestock have already been lost.

In the 1980s, one million Ethiopians died of starvation from a drought that was exacerbated by political upheaval in the county’s northern region. Today, circumstances are different, but the outcome may not be.  At the end of 2015, 8.2 million Ethiopians were in need of food assistance. Aid agencies predict that the number could almost double to 15 million in 2016.

Ethiopia’s current government amassed food stocks and created early warning systems to deal with drought. But the magnitude of this drought was unforeseen. Experts estimate that Ethiopia will need up to $1.4 billion to cope. Although the Ethiopian government has committed almost $200 million and the international community another $170 million, much more is needed.

With world attention focused on Syria, the Middle East and the Zika virus in the Americas, the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia has been largely overlooked.

The Ethiopian government as well as international aid organizations and local nonprofits on the ground in Ethiopia are scrambling to save lives. One organization, A Glimmer of Hope Foundation, an Aid for Africa member, is supporting a feeding program for children in need.

A Glimmer of Hope is targeting the 400,000 children who are malnourished as the result of the drought. Along with their Ethiopian partner organizations, they are funding emergency food efforts to provide life-sustaining grain through schools. The first $250,000 has already been spent. It is now working to double these efforts. Details about how you can help can be found here.

Finally, word is beginning to spread about the crisis in Ethiopia and what is needed. The mechanisms are in place to deal with it. Now all that is needed is the financial commitment.