Ethiopia Drought Appeal

Although the media is not giving it much attention, there has been a slow onset drought and resulting famine in the horn of Africa. The authoritative Famine Early Warning system has been using a figure of 15 million for Ethiopia alone. Also Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya are affected. Various regions are in a state of Emergency (IPC Phase 4), meaning that they are unable to access adequate food for survival and face an increased risk of malnutrition and mortality.” This is just one step away from famine.

And the situation is complex. The Port of Djibouti, through which most foreign grain must flow, is unlikely to be able to handle the volumes. “It manages usually around 500,000 tons per month. Can it deal with an additional 2 million tons, and with what kinds of delay?” Ethiopia’s natural gateways to the sea are closed as they are Eritrean ports which have lain idle since the border war between the two countries (1998 – 2000).

Ethiopia’s “biblical” famines of 1973 – 74 and 1984 – 85 left hundreds of thousands dead, probably around 200,000 and 400,000 respectively. Since the first of these tragedies, the population of Ethiopia has quadrupled – from around 26 million in 1973 to around 100 million today. Highland farms (tiny patches of land, eroded by decades of intensive agriculture and subdivided down the generations) can barely feed a family in the best of times.

Even in normal years some 7 or 8 million Ethiopians require international food aid to survive.   This year el-Nino and the drought it has brought has exacerbated the situation. But these droughts are cyclical and it was inevitable. For Ethiopia, the picture is not entirely negative. The country has enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years. The authorities have greater resources to draw upon. And Ethiopia recently signed a border agreement with Kenya that could allow increased aid to be brought in by road. But no one should underestimate the impact of the drought and the looming threat of famine. There are warnings that the humanitarian caseload could exceed the Syrian crisis.

Self Help Groups that were set up by local Tearfund staff in 2002 and that have the local churches at the heart of their organisation and expansion have become a source of support for each other during the drought. Over 12,000 groups affecting over 1 million people in 2 districts who have built resilience over several years (funds have been saved, grain stores built, drought resistant crops grown) and there is shared wisdom as they advise each other as a network on surviving this drought. A visible church, rolling up its sleeves to serve the community and prepare the community for crisis is a beautiful example of mission.

Bishops’ Appeal has supported the expansion of this initiative by funding new Self Help Groups in districts affected by drought.