Drought mitigation: Lessons from Ethiopia

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Ethiopia's upland drought zone, in February 2016. [Matthew Tempest/Flickr]

Ethiopia, at the forefront of preventing and reducing drought risks, offers lessons to prepare for future challenges, writes the Embassy of Ethiopia to the EU.

Ethiopia is one of several African states in the Horn of Africa and East Africa suffering from drought, but has more resources and infrastructure to cope than many.

Twenty million people are currently at risk of hunger worldwide. The urgency of the situation, however, overshadows a longer-term challenge: climate change. The effects of climate change are still little perceived in Europe but it already affects the lives of millions of people. Ethiopia, at the forefront of preventing and reducing drought risks, offers lessons to prepare for future challenges.

Over the past few weeks, the media have published an abundance of alarming reports on the risk of famine in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria. According to the UN, 20 million people are currently on the brink of starvation, making it the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two. The urgency of the situation, however, tends to obscure a longer-term issue linked to this crisis. The issue of global warming, whose validity some Western governments continue, despite evidence, to question. Global warming is already affecting many developing countries, where the daily struggle to cope with a deregulated climate is constant.

Although the extent of the current famine is the result of a complex combination of factors, including persistent conflicts that led to massive population displacement, violence has only increased the effects of the unusually severe drought that has been hitting Africa since 2015. In the Horn of Africa, two consecutive years of drought, mainly due to the El Niño phenomenon, caused a drop in agricultural yields of up to 80% in some areas. This decimated whole herds due to a lack of water and pastures.

Although this humanitarian crisis is reminiscent of other tragedies of this type in this region regularly plagued by cycles of severe drought, the current situation is not ordinary.

Extra €165m from EU for drought crisis in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia

The EU announced on Friday (17 March) a further €165m for drought-stricken parts of eastern Africa, during a visit by Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Neven Mimica to Addis Ababa, the continent’s diplomatic capital.

Many researchers believe that El Niño is intensifying because of climate change, and the current trend is the strongest ever observed. Ethiopia is also facing its worst drought in over 50 years, leaving nearly 8.2 million people with no certainty about food or water. However, the spectre of starvation remains distant in Ethiopia, a haven spared from famine in a region hard hit by drought. What lessons can be drawn from the Ethiopian experience?

More than 30 years after Ethiopia was in the headlines of the international press due to famine, the situation could not be more different. The government has transformed the economy into one of the most dynamic in the world (9.9% growth in 2014) by making agriculture the centrepiece of its economic policy. This policy line is essential for ensuring food security through the development of efficient channels to market cereals, fruits and vegetables so that farmers can earn a better living from their land.

Everything is in place to avoid food insecurity, from a significant improvement to the early warning and response systems to adaptation strategies implemented to address climate change. At the first signs of drought, the Ethiopian government has acted to limit their negative impact on the lives of farmers and their livestock. Since 2016, Ethiopia has drawn more than €677 million from its budget to provide food and medical services in areas hit by drought. At the regional level, Ethiopia has also provided more than 7,200 quintals of emergency food aid and 26,667 cartons of milk to the Somaliland region, after it declared the existence of an acute drought.

The scale of the famine of the 1980s is widely attributed to the policies of the Derg regime, particularly because of the forced displacement of populations and high military spending. The first lesson that can be learned is that humanitarian crises can be avoided by making appropriate policy decisions. Although it represents only 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the African continent will be the region most affected by the negative effects of climate change. It, therefore, becomes clear that if the goodwill of the states concerned is an indispensable prerequisite, it will not suffice to cope with the problem in the long term.

The encouraging results of cooperation between the European Union and Ethiopia in the area of migration illustrate how a convergence of interests can lead to more effective policies. Hosting more than 800,000 refugees, Ethiopia is the first host country in Africa and continues to welcome every day new refugees fleeing Eritrea, the civil war in South Sudan or the situation in Somalia. Providing prospects for the population is, therefore, the best way to curb migration to Europe, and the country committed itself at the end of 2016 to the development of industrial parks which will employ more than 100,000 people, including 30,000 refugees, co-financed by the European Union and the World Bank. Although imperfect, these first promising initiatives could, if they address their current gaps, serve as a model for future cooperation and be extended to other areas.

Facing the twin challenges of economic development and climate change, Ethiopia is also a forerunner in international climate policy. The aim is to transform its economy into a green economy resilient to the effects of climate change. Soil rehabilitation, which allows people to own land and to work and eat to their fill, is another way of avoiding the migratory crisis.

Many parts of the world experience climate disruptions that affect their livelihoods and economies. At the end of 2015, a World Bank report indicated that without immediate efforts, climate change could make extreme poverty explode by 2030, undermining both developed countries’ poverty reduction measure and the efforts of developing countries such as Ethiopia. The country’s proactive industrialisation and development policies alone will not be sufficient to cope with the scale of the phenomenon which is global and therefore requires a strong commitment from the international community.

Regions weakened by climate change, in Asia and Africa, are the laboratory of the world of tomorrow and provide solutions that could prevent the aggravation of current crises. As the UN predicts 250 million climate refugees by 2050, the lessons learned in Ethiopia will be essential in the world to come.

Drought-hit Ethiopia reinvents itself as upmarket tourist destination

With the worst drought in 50 years, some 18 million people dependent on emergency food supplies, and aid agencies warning the money and the aid will run out in two months, it seems a strange time for Ethiopia to be marketing itself as an upmarket tourist destination.

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