Humanitarian Situation Critical Despite Improvements

There are numerous narratives floating around regarding Ethiopia's current social, political and economic situation. Though, of course, these vary in their optimism, or contrasting pessimism, one clear message is that Ethiopia has tiptoed away from its past image of drought, famine and despair. Though the El Niño has impacted a large number of people across the country, the response, and indeed preparation, has meant that the kind of biblical famine the country experienced in the past will not rear its ugly head again. This is not to say, however, that the current situation is not troubling. National and global efforts must be sustained and forthcoming. Samrawit Tassew, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER explores the past one year journey through prisim of socio-economic frame of the country

Amongst the various narratives of turmoil, health crises and drought, alongside counter narratives, many have brought forth good news to the boundaries of Ethiopia.

The Joint Government and Humanitarian Partners’ Ethiopian Humanitarian Requirement Document’s Mid-Year Review, released last week, shows that half a million people have moved out of the humanitarian-need curve. This puts the number of those in need of urgent food aid to 9.7 million. The humanitarian requirement has risen up to 200,000 dollars from the same time last year.

It was last year, on June 4, that the Ethiopian Meteorological Agency declared the full scale negative impacts of the climate disturbance, El Niño. At this time, they stated that it would deprive areas that contribute 56pc of the country’s agricultural yields, affecting more than 10pc of the population over the upcoming year.

It was as early as August 2015 that Fortune observed that in certain parts of the country – the Oromia region’s Arsi zone – farmers were completely out of their farming patterns and inputs. The price of food even at the onset of the drought had shown leaps of more than 200pc.

The numbers of those in need too had progressively escalated – from 2.9 million in January 2015 to 4.55 million six months later. This was due to the failure of the annual belg rains. The worst drought impact in the country’s history was recorded in December 2015, leaving 10.2 million in need of urgent humanitarian response.

Annual food inflation for the budget year of 2015/16 has reached double digits, at 11pc -the highest level over the past three years. This has shown a four-fold increase in terms of the number of people suffering from food insecurity.

It is this humanitarian crisis, which the response led by the government managed to contain, reducing those in urgent need down to 9.7 million – still high compared to the global standard. Despite the reduced number of people, the resource requirement of 1.6 billion dollars is the highest in the world.

In the last year, 37 woredas have moved from priority one – a situation where there is a humanitarian emergency requirement – to priority two, where there is still an acute food and livelihood crisis, but not an emergency. On the other hand, the situation in 18 woredas has become worse – moving from priority three to a more vulnerable state.

Last week’s report still places 400 woredas under the three categories of priority designation, out of which 206 are in the most vulnerable priority one curve.

The FAO’s appeal, released in the same week of August, asked for an urgent 45 million dollars in support, while the total has increased close to a 100 million dollars for the remainder of the year.

“The numbers are escalating not because the situation did not improve, but because the revision had to consider the onset of another climate change calamity, flooding from La Niña,” said an expert who was a member of the review expert team. “The worst of La Niña will come later in October.”

Studies indicate that such a sequential pattern of El Niño and La Niña has been witnessed since 1972, though in different intensities. The 2009-2011 sequence resulted in severe drought in many east African countries, with Ethiopia the worst affected after Somalia.

According to the recently completed National Flood Contingency Plan, nine regions, with the exception of the capital and Benshangul Gumuz, will be affected by La Niña induced flood, putting over a million people at risk and half a million facing displacement.

The last three months, beginning in June, have seen an average rainfall, which has benefitted agricultural industries. The strong rainfall may continue beyond its usual seasonal period, with the onset of La Niña. While these rains will boost agriculture production in highland areas, above normal rainfall could also spell disaster for communities in mid and lowland areas who have already been affected by flooding and mudslides.

As the flood is expected to directly damage houses and infrastructure, leading to homelessness, the requirement has been hiked up, with the WASH sector alone claiming close to 250 million dollars. This will be used for awareness creation, flood protection and water quality assurances.

“Ethiopia needs urgent global support to respond to its humanitarian needs,” insists Amadou Allahoury, FAO representative to Ethiopia, in a recent report. “We have no time to procrastinate.”

Ethiopia is an epicentre of global concerted responses to climate change induced drought, and the resulting famine.

Not only has it gained the attention of international agencies and countries, it has also received a landmark people to people response. This includes two dedicated songs for world public response mobilisation.

“Do they Know it’s Christmas” in 1984 by Band Aid and “We are the World” by US for Africa singers in 1985 were created to raise awareness and aid for the 1983-85 famine in the country. This disaster claimed millions of lives and destabilised the country’s socio-economic, political realities and image. The songs raised eight million pounds and 63 million dollars, respectively.

Thirty years on, during the historic moment when humanitarian responses reached a record high of more than 25 billion dollars, Ethiopia finds itself in an underfunded crisis in the first half of 2016. It was at the end of last year that the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released 100 million dollars from the Central Emergency Response Fund. Ethiopia has enjoyed 10pc of the allocated budget alongside another eight hotspots identified as severely underfunded.

The funding trend has not been matched in parallel by the appeal. What the country has received in 2015 is way below the record 821 million dollars in 2011, with 561 million last year in response to a 1.4-billion-dollar appeal.

In March 2016, the UN coordinated appeal for the remainder of 2016 reached an unprecedented 21.6 billion dollars – 25pc of its target. This was to meet the 95.4 million needy people in 40 countries.

“Woefully underfunded” is how the report describes the global situation, with it far from meeting the demands of both man-made calamities and the natural disaster of El Niño.

El Niño has affected close to 60 million people in the world this year, with Ethiopia having a 16pc share of this number. Considering the impact intensity, the country is identified as the number one potential recipient of funds amounting to 814.7 million dollars.

The El Niño impact appeal still has an outstanding 612 million dollars in funding.

The country, despite the devastation of the cyclic climate change hazards, has made significant strides over the past decade, meeting two Millennium Development Goals and nearly doubling its economy.

A different narrative from a country previously ravaged by civil war and instability, and extreme poverty, has been increasingly emerging. Indeed, Ethiopia is among the fastest growing non-oil economies, recording double-digit economic growth over consecutive years.

The Country’s leaders admitted, however, that some were reluctant to adopt accounts of situations on the ground that could herald a doomsday.

After the drought, the International Monetary Fund predicted in April that growth would drop from 10.2pc in 2015 to just 4.5pc in 2016.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn maintained, however, that growth would be a robust 8.5pc. This is despite the falling agriculture productivity and decreased export earnings.

It was in mid-July that the PM was certain of his government’s achievement of double digit growth.

Although the meher (June to August) production declined in some parts of the country following the El Niño phenomenon, better rains during the belg (March to May) season led to increased harvest, he told MPs on July 5,2016’s session.

With the Country’s bold budget of close to 12.4 billion dollars, with a commitment to raise 72pc from its own coffers, the challenge of mitigating the impact looms larger than ever.

Research predicts that it will take time if everything goes as predicted.

To fully recover, households who lost small ruminants, such as sheep, may need two years, while those who lost cattle will need four years to go back to where they were in pre-drought, the FAO’s prediction indicates.

Debated and shifting, the drought and the expected flood threats present themselves as the country’s elephant in the room, challenging the resilience of the economy, which is challenged by many as deeply unequal.

Looking at the past year’s resilience though, one thing seems beyond a reasonable doubt – the “biblical famines” experienced three decades ago are a thing of the past in the country.

“Though there has been a fundamental shift in the country’s potential, the situation is sure to have a macro-economic impact on the country’s ambitious growth plans,” commented a senior instructor in economics from Mekelle University.

By Samrawit Tassew

Published on Aug 23,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 851]



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