The number of people being affected by the drought in Ethiopia is mounting at an alarming pace within a short period of time. A recent report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), declares the drought as one of the worst in 30 years.

There is no point arguing over the numbers as seems to be the focus of some sources. The life of even a single human being is a matter of concern. Respecting the right to food of each of the affected people is what matters most.

It is therefore evident, that calling for emergency aid from all available sources is of paramount importance at this point in time. We cannot sit back and argue over numbers until the BBC or any international media come to expose the creeping hunger and make headlines to dust off the scars of 40 years.

Image-building in the wake of an election and the 100pc victory is understandable but this is not a matter for sleeping on, as perilous cases of a death-dealing magnitude loom ever closer.

On the contrary, this question is going to be the most important challenge that puts the recently elected and sworn in to the test – a point for them to prove that they are worth their promises to serve the people of their respective constituents. They are expected to voice the living rights of the voiceless whether these have cast their votes or not. Not a second must be wasted when people’s lives are at risk.

The members of the Federal Parliament, in particular, are in a much better position to gather information from the places where the pinch hurts most. Forty years ago, there were some pockets where the creeping hunger could not be mitigated. Either the sad news could not be open to the public in time or even if it was publicised, there was no adequate infrastructure to mobilise the marketable crops from areas of surplus even to the nearest district where they were most needed to save lives. That problem was fully explained by Nobel Laurate, Amartya Sen.

Scholars like Professor Mesfin Woldemariam and Dessalegne Rahmato have published books on these pertinent issues – books which are used as references in many Universities in England.

We are now in a different time and age. By courtesy of advanced technology and science, the cyclical phenomenon has by now become well documented. Lessons have been learnt from past experiences to engage the farmers in struggling to keep the problem of soil degradation and soil erosion at bay, by exerting every possible effort to maintain the ecology.

Projects designed to redress the impacts of drought by planting trees and building terraces, have been in place and are reported to have borne fruit, albeit on a seasonal basis.

Emergency steps to save human lives are vital actions that deserve the first order of priority. These can be either in the form of revitalising the old feeding (recovery) camps or building new ones. The involvement of international aid agencies and local governmental and non-governmental institutions is also very important.

The primary task may be working out plans of action, specifying the map of coordinated activities, required type of manpower, finance, and schedules of expenditure, including transportation services. The task force, then, can make situational assessment expeditions to the relevant areas where conditions are reported to be rather grave.

Infrastructural provision is surely by far better than it was 40 or so years ago. It is now possible to make direct contact with the areas of concern. But rescue task forces cannot be lasting solutions for the cyclical phenomenon.

The subsequent question will therefore be what can be done to make sustainable solutions possible. From a global warming perspective, cyclical phenomena call for the strengthening of close follow up systems of emergency and preparedness steps that need be taken in time to avert disaster. The response should also take into account the scale of the drought’s intensity at different places and differing impacts on children, lactating women and livestock.

In terms of its implications, it must be noted with caution that one way or other, the crisis involves all the citizens of the country whether or not they are in Parliament, government offices or political parties with different policies. The implications trail down from top to bottom.

The present grave situation cannot be seen in isolation of the other socio-economic, cultural, historical and the very political situations of the country. Improving soil erosion or degradation is only one part of the solution. Considering mutual discussions at all levels of intellect is another. Prioritisation of other present day national problems, like land tenure policy, is essential.

At a time when the youth are pursuing their studies in higher institutions of learning, and running away from conventional farming or fleeing the country for one reason or other, it is obviously going to be difficult to find easy solutions for the pressing problems. But let us not lose hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Nov 03,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 809]



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