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Ethiopian drought leaves 10 million facing food shortages

Severe drought could create a new, serious humanitarian crisis in East Africa.

Friday January 22, 2016

Ethiopian drought, farmer
Hassan Ibrahim of Bede village, where three-quarters of the livestock have died and no crops will grow. Photo: Michael Tsegaye

Red Cross is planning its response to an impending humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia and other East African countries. In Ethiopia alone more than 10 million people face food shortages and deepening poverty due to ongoing droughts conditions associated with the El Nino climate cycle.  

El Nino is characterised by the warming of sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. This has flow-on climate effects around the world, with heavy flooding in some regions and severe drought in others.

Historically, El Nino has been a catalyst for serious drought in Ethiopia. The most extreme El Nino event of the last century (1982-1983) contributed to drought and famine that killed approximately one million Ethiopians.   

With more than 80% of its population dependent on rain-fed agriculture for sustenance, Ethiopia is highly vulnerable to extreme weather. At the start of 2015, an estimated 2.9 million people faced drought-attributed food shortages. This number has now skyrocketed to over 10 million (of which 1.7 million are children), and is projected to rise to more than 15 million in 2016.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is planning a major relief effort. Ethiopian Red Cross aims to distribute supplementary food packages to children under five (of which there are currently 435,000 at risk), severely malnourished children, pregnant women, breast feeding mothers and people living with disabilities. These food packages will provide six months of standard rations to individuals.  

Vulnerable families will also receive supplementary food for livestock, to ensure they have continued access to milk.

Planned with the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), the relief strategy also addresses health and water shortages. Red Cross will also organise community-based first aid training. In a disaster, access to first aid can greatly increase people's chances of survival by reducing infection and stopping the spread of disease. Relief efforts will also include  hygiene and sanitation education programs, water testing and treatment equipment, jerry cans to store water safely, and other essential non-food items.  

Australian Red Cross is monitoring the situation as it develops. Jess Lees from the International Disaster and Crisis Team said: "Ethiopia Red Cross and other Red Cross partners have learned from previous food crises to act on warning signs. Investing in early action is paramount to preventing starvation."

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