As visibily seen, a test is happening at the time of writing, where a devastating drought is affecting the Horn of Africa, which makes it extremely important to ask what will happen in future droughts.
It is challenging not only to the Ethiopian government but also to the government of Kenya and the fledgeling regime in Somalia to rise to the new challenge.
Once again the international support is falling far short of the past, and governments are pushed to fill in the gaps. The outcome is still uncertain but not looking good.
A second big question is what needs to be done to mitigate the impact of future droughts – so that fewer people are affected rather than more?
Clearly, something is not working and it needs to be rethought and changed. There were officially 8.8 million people in need of food aid in 1984-5 in Ethiopia; in 2015-6 it was over 18 million, including the ongoing safety net program. Population growth more than accounts for the increase, so obviously this is an issue to address.
In much of Ethiopia, especially the northern cropping areas and the towns and cities, population growth has been reducing to much more manageable levels of 2pc or even less, but much of the country continues to have very high rates of population increase. There are large behaviour challenges in many of these areas – the pastoralist and some other remote peoples’ still feel they need to produce many children and regard family planning as a type of genocide.
But there is another big issue, which is that despite good economic growth, officially in excess of 10pc a year in the last ten years, there are parts of the country where some people are not becoming less vulnerable. Climate change is a factor – most studies show that rainfall is becoming weaker and more unreliable in about two-thirds of the country in the East and Central areas – especially the lowlands. The other one-third in the higher producing Western Highlands, where about 60pc of the rural population lives, is getting better and more reliable rainfall helping to fuel production increases.
Clearly, very different approaches are needed for the parts of the country that are ‘winners’ in terms of climate, and those that are ‘losers’. Climate change adaptation needs to go beyond the current focus on increasing yields or diversifying incomes in these hard-hit rural areas; many of these people are simply going to have to move out.
The government is justifiably afraid of a major influx of towns and cities, but attempts to move people from one rural area to another have had, to put it generously, mixed success. Rather than having a flood of families arriving in towns and cities, however, the government has put the emphasis on youth, with those attaining an education generally moving to jobs in the urban areas.
For the more vulnerable parts of the country, this effort on youth needs to be redoubled. Many youths, even without education, are heading out in pursuit of other opportunities. When I visited a remote village in the highlands during the drought, a place I knew from several previous visits, the major change was the absence of the youth. “The young people are gone,” an elder told me. “There is nothing for them here – no food, no work. They are trying to feed themselves by working in the towns. We don’t know how they are, or how they are surviving. We hope they will come back with something for us.”
Older people are unlikely to leave their land and the cropping or livestock they are familiar with, but young people see that they need to look for a future elsewhere. The challenge is to help them succeed, and not to become victims of the human traffickers eager to lure them into dangerous migration to Europe or the Middle East.
Fortunately, programs are already underway which have shown the direction for future success for marginal youth from marginal areas. Predictably they need to have basic literacy and numeracy, but confidence, savings skills, and an understanding of business have also all been crucial to success, according to a program that has helped 83pc of targeted rural youth to succeed. Technical skills can be acquired on the job, but most of the youth just have to understand what a job is and how to be a reliable employee!
The Ethiopian government is working hard to transform the economy to an industrial base with the opening of Special Economic Zones which have already been strongly launched. Counter-intuitively, employers in towns and cities report already that they have lots of jobs, but not the right people to fill them. Their problem is finding reliable employees who are willing to stay and help build their business, something that rural youth can readily learn with some help.
The challenges are huge – but the potential is huge as well to help the youth to contribute to the growth of the economy. As youths successfully move on from the marginal rural areas, they free up land and resources so that those who remain can grow and succeed. What is now called ‘Rurbanization’ is also helping, with rural areas benefiting from the markets, ideas and innovations from the urban areas increasingly accessible to them.
With a lot of effort, Ethiopia can get to the next step, where they are not only handling the major weight of droughts in the future but also reducing the number of people affected and minimising the need for any response at all.
Although the drought response saved the lives of many Ethiopians, in some areas the response was not enough to prevent deterioration in education, health and nutrition, and water supply. For example, over one million children are estimated to have dropped out of school during the drought, and research shows that many of them, especially girls, will never return to school.
Very little of the humanitarian request for education was received; in emergencies, life-saving priorities like food and nutrition get the priority. But several donors did set an example, using their existing education programs to direct funds to help with school feeding and water supply to schools, crucial to keeping them open during a drought emergency.
In the future, this ‘crisis modifier’ can be used to pivot funds on a much larger scale to protect development gains – so that drought impact on education, health and nutrition, and water supply can be minimised.
In 2015 Ethiopia received about 4.4 billion dollars in development assistance for sectors like health and nutrition, water supply, education and so on, but only about 500 million dollars was requested for those same sectors for humanitarian assistance in the drought. By diverting only 12pc of development support the humanitarian needs in all of these sectors could have been met. A lesson for the future.
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