27 January 2016

Ethiopia: Hunger Crisis Eclipsed By Political Turmoil Elsewhere

Photo: Save the Children
A family sits on the floor of their home with their one-year-old son, who has moderate acute malnutrition.

The food crisis in Ethiopia is worsening. Aid agencies are sounding the alarm, saying up to 15 million people could be affected by the El Nino-induced drought. But other global crises seem to attract more attention.

In December 2015, the Ethiopian government appealed for 1.4 billion dollars in aid (1.3 billion euros), but officials claim that only 180 million dollars have been received so far and that over 90 percent of the aid distributed is coming from government coffers.

The NGO "Save the Children" puts the international aid at "less than one third" of the requested sum, and last week stated that the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia is "a code red emergency and it needs to be treated like one."

"Apart from receiving, and listening to, information on [drought] from time to time, donor countries' immediate response is very sluggish" Alemayehu Berhanu, spokesperson with Ethiopia's Ministry of Agriculture, told DW's Amharic service. He added that over 60 of Ethiopia's donor partners knew of the looming crisis from the time the number of needy was still at 3.5 million people compared to the 10 million today - but few responded.

Syria or Ethiopia?

Mitiku Kassa, the commissioner in charge of Ethiopia's Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Agency, sees a connection between the slow trickle of emergency funds and the fact that the same donor countries are responding to international crises in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. With many refugees entering European countries, in particular Germany, aid budgets are being diverted. "They [the donors] probably assume that the magnitude of the hunger problem in Ethiopia is less serious", Mitiku said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

One of the biggest recipients of foreign aid, the poverty-stricken Horn of Africa country Ethiopia, is often labeled a "donor darling." It has however been accused of misspending aid money in exchange for political favors, causing a furious, if short-lived, outcry from donors.

Scientists say the current drought in Africa's second most populous nation has been triggered by El Nino - a warm weather phenomenon originating from the Pacific Ocean.

Generation hunger

New figures released by humanitarian agencies and the government of Ethiopia show that more than 2.5 million children are expected to drop out of school as a result of the drought, whereas 1.7 million children are in need of nutritional support.

NGO Save the Children last week warned that 350,000 babies are expected to be born into drought-stricken communities in the coming six months.

"If emergency funding doesn't escalate very soon, there is a real risk of reversing some key development progress made in Ethiopia over the past two decades, including the reduction of child mortality rates by two thirds, and halving the percentage of the population living below the poverty line", Country Director John Graham said.

The looming hunger crisis in Ethiopia is also trending on social media, with critics lashing out at the government for posting double-digit growth figures when at the same time millions of people go hungry. Kennedy Tamirat wrote on DW Amharic's Facebook page: "This [the food crisis] is the real picture of our country. This is truth. But our government officials never want to see it."

Witnessing drought on the ground

After visiting Ethiopia's badly-affected Eastern Somali region, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) spoke of a "disaster in the making."

Ahmednur Abdi, NRC's Country Director told Deutsche Welle that the area did not receive rainfall for two consecutive seasons. "In all my life, I have never experienced a worse drought," a 90 year-old woman in Sitti, a zone in the Somali region of Ethiopia, told the NRC team. Other dwellers recalled memories of the 1984 drought that left two million people dead.

"It is crucial that the drought-affected communities in Ethiopia are provided with timely assistance," said Geir Olav Lisle, NRC's Deputy Secretary General. "We cannot risk that the drought in Ethiopia is overshadowed by the Syria crisis and other ongoing emergencies," he added. "The outlook for 2016 is very grim," according to the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). "Food overall will become harder to access if we continue to see prices rise, food stocks deplete and livestock become weaker, less productive, and perish."

Ethiopians now await the arrival of the rainy season in March - if it arrives at all.

More on This

UN Must Raise Alarm Over Worst Drought in 50 Years - Save the Children

Save the Children is calling on the United Nations to urgently raise the global alarm on Ethiopia’s worst drought… Read more »

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