Ethiopia is suffering from an ongoing drought, worsened by the El Niño global weather phenomenon. Rain-fed agriculture is the primary driver of the country’s economy, accounting for nearly 45% of its GDP and employing some 85% of its population. So it’s no surprise that the number of relief food beneficiaries in Ethiopia has increased to 4.5 million this month (out of an estimated population of 85 million), as stated in a report the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published on Tuesday. The report also noted that $386 million is required to adequately respond to the crisis, a 10.6% increase from a January forecast.
However, the government still insists it can care for the country without external food aid. In early August, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Wondimu Filate said “The government has enough food stock and it is assisting farmers to continue their farming practices with improved seed items and drought-resistant crops.” And Government Communications Affairs Office Minister Redwan Hussien was even more emphatic in his comments last Thursday. “We are able to feed ourselves and hence the magnitude of the problem has not been felt by the majority of the public including in areas affected by the shortage of rain… There is no sufficient reason for food price hikes because we do not anticipate severe damage in crop production. In any event of food shortage, we have adequate stockpile of crops to feed the gap,” he said.
But the U.N. report provides grounds for some skepticism on the efficacy of the government’s relief efforts — notably by attributing the increase in necessary funding for the remainder of this year to, in part, delays in distribution of relief food and targeted supplementary feeding during the first half of the year.
And despite Ethiopia’s double-digit economic growth over the past decade, more than 20 million people are living below the poverty line, according to the U.N. Development Assistance Framework 2012-2015. Nearly 10% of the population, particularly small-hold farmers, remains chronically vulnerable to food insecurity (which is only expected to worsen with climate change); they are dependent on national safety-net programs.
Yet, present hardships aside, the country’s optimism is widespread and enduring. According to a July 23 survey, 89% of respondents from Ethiopia believe the country’s current economic situation is good, 84% feel that the economic situation will improve over the next year, and 84% think that the next generation will have better financial prospects than the current one.
And good news may indeed be on the way. The country almost always has a three-month rainy season that begins in mid-June. However, due to the El Niño effect this year, in July Ethiopia experienced a severe lack of rain. But now the country’s National Meteorological Agency is forecasting that rain will be coming this month to most of the affected areas.
If the government proves that it can provide for its citizens in hard times, then such optimism will be well-founded.