Nature shows no mercy in Ethiopia

April 28, 2016
Written by Kieran McConville
Photo by Kieran McConville

El Niño has brought devastating drought to much of Ethiopia, and with as many as 70 million people reliant on rain-fed agriculture, immediate help is needed and lives are in the balance.

A uniquely vulnerable landscape

Ethiopia has come a very long way since the haunting images of starvation caused by drought that were broadcast to the world by the BBC three decades ago. Economic growth figures in recent years have been among the best on the African continent, indeed anywhere in the world, and the government has been rolling out ambitious infrastructure and social programs. 

Because of the drought, up to 18 million people are currently dependent on aid for their survival.

But Ethiopia is literally at the mercy of the elements. Spread across a vast and varied landscape, its people are particularly susceptible to climate shock. Very poor rainfall last year, compounded by the arrival of El Niño and ongoing climate change, has spelled disaster for many millions of farmers and their families. It’s estimated that 80% of the population are dependent on rain-fed agriculture — as many as 70 million people. 

The Government of Ethiopia, backed up by international donors, has rolled out a huge emergency aid operation, trucking food supplies to affected areas. Up to 18 million people are now dependent on this aid for their survival, including eight million people on the government safety net program. But, even if this year’s rains are a success, many of these people will not harvest until November at the earliest. 

An international emergency appeal for Ethiopia is in place, but to date less than half of the money needed has been raised. 

Grain distribution

The government of Ethiopia, backed by international donors, is providing food aid and social assistance to as many as 18 million people affected by the current drought. For many, even if this year’s rains are a success, they will need assistance until November at the earliest. Photo: Kieran McConville

Concern & Ethiopia: a decades-long partnership

Concern has worked in Ethiopia for 40 years and over the past six months has rapidly scaled up its operation, tripling the size of the team and expanding to reach 29 of the worst affected districts.

Our concentration is on providing supplementary food for the most vulnerable — malnourished under-five children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers. We are also supporting health centers with medicine and supplies and training public health workers in the treatment of severe malnutrition. 

“The people of Ethiopia deserve our help… They are working hard to help themselves, but the scale of this challenge is beyond the ability of any one nation to cope with.” 

In addition, Concern is trucking thousands of gallons of clean water to drought-affected communities every day. Many of these now have no other source of water supply.

Concern Worldwide is trucking thousands of gallons of clean water to some of the most drough-affected communities in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The valley in the background hasn't seen proper rain for three years and all water sources have dried up. Some people walk up to five hours a day to collect water. Photo: Kieran McConville

Concern Worldwide is trucking thousands of gallons of clean water to some of the most drough-affected communities in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The valley in the background hasn’t seen proper rain for three years and all water sources have dried up. Photo: Kieran McConville

In anticipation of the coming rains, which hopefully will arrive in June, we are looking to secure hundreds of tons of seed to help beleaguered farmers get back on their feet.

This work is challenging and expensive, but also urgently needed. “The people of Ethiopia deserve our help,” according to Concern Country Director, Kate Corcoran. “They are working hard to help themselves, but the scale of this challenge is beyond the ability of any one nation to cope with.” 

Our response, by the numbers:

  • Targeting nearly 250,000 women and children with nutrition support
  • Reaching over 200,000 people with water and sanitation projects
  • Training over 1,100 Ministry of Health staff in treatment of acute malnutrition
  • Planning to provide seed for over 30,000 drought-affected households

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A woman walks home with water she's collected

A woman walks home with water she’s collected from the tank Concern just filled. Some people walk up to five hours a day to collect water. Photo: Kieran McConville