Does Ethiopia need international aid to cope with drought?

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Alastair Leithead reports from the affected region

Ethiopia is the world's fastest growing economy. So when drought struck why did it need international help?

Ethiopia has been doing very well over the last 15 years or so.

Millions of people have been lifted out of poverty as the economy, jointly with Turkmenistan, has been growing faster than anywhere else in the world.

The double-digit growth is obvious from the building sites and the tower blocks rising up on every corner in the capital Addis Ababa.

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Building sites all over Ethiopia are just one illustration of the speed of the country's growth

The country has changed a great deal since 1984, when hundreds of thousands of people died of hunger.

Those terrible images of famine from more than 30 years ago still haunt Ethiopia.

It was a time when war and political neglect turned drought into disaster, and for a government today with grand ambitions it's still a raw wound.

Now it's a place with a confidence, only dented when the climate changes.

El Nino dried up the rainfall.

Drought once again turned the land to dust.

It's facing as bad a drought as 1984 over a much wider area.

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Farmers' livestock have died in the drought and they have been left with nothing
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Ethiopia has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on buying food for people affected by the drought

One man I met told me this is the worst drought he has seen in 45 years.

I met Ahmed Dubet Roble at a gathering of around 1,400 families in Fedeto. He had travelled from the barren countryside to ask for help.

He has lost everything.

Also there was Khadija Aden Abtidon, sitting by her little tent of sticks and cloth.

"We lost all our livestock," she said, "so we are here to seek support.

"There's no pasture, no water. We have never seen anything like this before."

In a warehouse in Dire Dawa I saw a huge tower of white maize sacks being loaded into an aid truck by a long line of men.

Image source, reliefweb

The bags were emblazoned with "Ministry of Agriculture". This is food the Ethiopian government had bought abroad, imported into Djibouti, transported via its new electrified railway and was delivering to its people.

The country has already committed more than $380m (£260m) of its own money to buying aid and using its new Chinese-built railway that cuts hundreds of miles through the parched countryside from the port in Djibouti.

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Aid has been coming on the new railway line from Dijbouti - just one of Ethiopia's big infrastructure projects

But for all it has achieved, Ethiopia had to turn to the international community for help.

"The reason why we say we need support is not necessarily because everything is beyond the pale," said Communications Minister Getachew Reda, who says they will to everything to stop people dying for want of food.

"But rather, because the best way to maintain the gross trajectory and at the same insulate our people from disaster, is by working with our partners."

Ethiopia has worked hard on building its life savings - its developing economy - and by asking for help now it's trying to protect its family silver.

With so many crises around the globe tackled too late, the aid world often ends up rushing the patient to life support having missed the chance to give preventative medicine.

What is complicated is the time it takes for money to be given and for the aid to be delivered - here it can take months.

Image source, Getty Images
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Ethiopia has had to appeal for international help, now they have to wait for it to come

Hundreds of millions have been given by international donors, but the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says only 46% of the $1.4bn needed has been given so far.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has less than a third of the money is says it needs to keep the aid coming.

"We need more funding and very quickly - immediately," said Oxfam's country director Ayman Omer.

"We need to work simultaneously on saving lives now and preparing for the next harvest.

"Even if the rain does come March to May that will definitely help in terms of water availability, but will not immediately result in harvest. The harvest season is up to November.

"It has been controlled so far, but much more is needed, otherwise we will get ourselves into problems."

The El Nino weather pattern has worsened the drought and if the next rains also fail, far more people will be affected, and those already needing help will need it far longer.