February 2016Africa

Environmental Implications of the Ethiopian Drought

By Theodore Ezike
Staff Writer

El Niño is the warming of the surface water in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which is linked to an oscillation in the atmospheric pressure across the region. Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University told reporters at NPR that, “It’s changing the behavior of the oceans in a way that affects weather patterns around the globe.”

The effects of El Niño are far flung and can be felt all across the globe. El Niño 2015/2016 is estimated to be the warmest since 1997/1998. This coupled with the fact that 2015 was the hottest year on record will mean an alarming increase in Pacific Ocean temperature. Weather scientist believe that climate change will increase the odds of stronger El Niño events in the future, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The effects of the El Niño event have absolutely devastated the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia. The country has experienced its worst drought in over 50 years. Reuters reports that crop productivity has declined by as much as 90 percent in some areas. The crop failure has also negatively affected livestock in the country.  The food security of 10.2 million Ethiopians are severely threatened.

According to Save the Children, of the 10.2 million Ethiopians impacted, the drought is especially deadly for newborn infants. Save the Children country director John Graham told Reuters “Giving birth in a desperate situation where there are already serious food shortages, and where livestock have died en masse taking away a vital source of nutrition for breastfeeding mothers, is extremely dangerous for both newborns and their mothers.” Graham has also called for more support from the international community.

However, the international response has been middling at best. Save The Children who has been seeking $100 million for the next 12 to 18 months. Oxfam and other NGOs are also trying to locate funds to help tackle the drought that Ethiopia is facing. The Ethiopian Government has earmarked $200 million for basic needs.  The United Nations is not faring much better. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that a total of $1.4 billion is needed to combat the food shortage. Unfortunately they the international community has only been able to pledge a quarter of the amount needed. Even then, most of the pledges have not been paid, which makes relief work difficult.

The drought has been a major setback for the Ethiopian economy. It is widely considered to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the fastest growing in the African Continent, with GDP growth of 10.6% in 2014 according to CNBCAfrica. Most of the country’s growth has stemmed from the agriculture industry, specifically, small-scale farmers.

The future prospects for Ethiopia are grim if you are to listen to Amadou Allahoury, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Representative for Ethiopia. Experts expect the drought to continue into 2016 and the number of people who are impacted by it to increase from 10.2 million to over 15 million if nothing substantive is done by international community.

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