El Nino threatens Ethiopia’s impressive growth

Ethiopia’s economy has grown impressively over the last decade and the impact of the growth has been felt in the country where millions of the citizens have been lifted out of poverty. The East African nation’s GDP grows at an average of 10 percent these days and its light rail, the first of such in sub-Saharan Africa has started working, among other good things to have come out the landlocked country.

However, the gains made by the country are threatened by drought whose effects have been exacerbated by El Nino, a naturally occurring phenomenon that involves fluctuating ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. A drought in 2002 contracted the GDP of Ethiopia by 2.2 percent, according to World Bank data.

Oxfam warned late September that 10 million people, mostly in Africa, face hunger because of droughts and unusual rainfall patterns caused by a “super” El Nino. The condition has hit Ethiopia hard – in August 4.5 million people were reported to need food aid in the country because of El Nino, according to U.N. agencies. This number almost doubled weeks later.

Agriculture is very important to Ethiopia, accounting for 40 percent of output and over 80 percent of employment. The combined effect of drought and El Nino may soon take its toll on the economy. But the pains of the 1980s when famine led to more than 400,000 deaths are yet to be forgotten. The government has, therefore, taken action over the years to mitigate the effects of drought on the country. The government claims agriculture has become less rain-dependent.

President Dr. Mulatu Teshome, early in October, said the government, having learned from past experience, had “developed satisfactory responses in areas where no water conservation has been done. On every farmer’s farm there should be at least one type of water harvesting and water conservation work that will enable them to manage the damage caused by lack of, or erratic, rains”. But the reality on ground shows not much have been achieved in blocking the effects of drought which has already affected harvest and caused livestock deaths in parts of Ethiopia.

To cater for the 8.2 million now in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, the government has disbursed $192 million, according to Mitiku Kassa, secretary of the National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee (NDPPC). Aid agencies and the government say more than $596 million is needed. With rain not expected until January, 15 million people may need food aid in 2016.

David Del Conte, the deputy country director for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia praised the government for showing remarkable leadership, having contributed a lot of funds, but noted that “we’re still in the early stages of what we believe will be a one-year crisis”.

Oxfam has been trucking clean water in rural areas of southern Ethiopia, where poor rains left water sources dry. OXFAM EAST AFRICA/flickr
Oxfam has been trucking clean water in rural areas of southern Ethiopia, where poor rains left water sources dry. OXFAM EAST AFRICA/flickr

While the world has celebrated Ethiopia’s economic growth and international agencies praised its response to disaster, some believe the leadership is the reason why famine has remained in the country and not climate change.  In his article on August 24, 2015, Dawit Ayele Haylemariam argued that the critical cause of hunger in Ethiopia is lack of rights and accountable government. He stressed the relationship between democracy and famine, citing a book by Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen. But as bad as authoritarianism may be, no one dwells too long on it when growth is visible. And for Ethiopia, whose ‘crazy’ growth aspirations are coming to pass before our very eyes, growth can cloud human rights abuses that critics claim are sometimes carried out in the name of economic development.

As critical as these issues are, they are not important for now. Yasin Mohammed Aliye, a farmer in Mieso, eastern Ethiopia and his family have been eating corn for a year, “and now we’re afraid of losing that, too,” he told New York Times. “But I will keep trying, and selling animals, until I finish everything.”

A 2014 study suggests that while the overall number of El Ninos is unlikely to increase, particularly strong “super” El Niños are likely to occur twice as frequently in a warming world. AlthoughAfrica contributes just 2 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, the continent usually pays more when the effects of global warming are being felt. El Nino is already ravaging the continent, with drought aggravating food shortages. Sadly, climate funding favours Asia.

“We need to look at how we’re dividing up (climate funding) to make sure the financing levels are high enough,”  Head of the African Development Bank Akinwumi Adesina told AFP on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings in Lima, Peru.

“What Africa needs is funds for adapting. We have hundreds of millions of people who have no way of adapting to climate change. But unfortunately, on climate finance, today in the world… 76% of financing is dedicated to mitigation.

“This is an imbalance that needs to be addressed,” Adesina said.