The Horn of Africa is suffering a historic drought that the U.N. says could result in starvation for as many as 20 million people. In Ethiopia, more than seven million people are already short of something to eat, suffering compounded by the war in the north.
A fourth consecutive year of failed rains is causing the worst drought in the Horn of Africa since 1981. Meanwhile, the U.N.’s World Food Program told VOA a combination of conflict in the north of Ethiopia and drought in the south, are set to be “catastrophic” for the country.
WFP spokesperson Clair Nevill said the worst effects could be averted if action is taken quickly, but that doesn’t look likely.
“In the 2016 to 2017 drought, this catastrophe was avoided through early action… In 2022, due to a severe lack of resourcing, there are growing fears that it won’t be possible to prevent the looming disaster,” he said.
A policy adviser for a major humanitarian donor to Ethiopia, who declined to be named, told VOA that the government’s focus was on the war and mobilization for it, so there was significant lag time in doing the assessments and putting in place the response mechanisms for the drought in the south. The adviser said the cost of that inattention was a huge loss of livelihoods, assets and livestock.
The adviser noted, however, that the regional and central governments have recently tried to pull together resources and are trying to address the needs in regions of the country like Somali and Oromia, particularly by rallying donors like the WFP.
Aid agencies in Africa have also complained the crisis in Ukraine is drawing attention and money away from countries on the Arican continent.
The policy adviser added the damage caused by the delayed response is irreversible and it could take years, if it happens at all, for those affected to recover.
Aside from drawing attention from the drought, Ethiopia’s civil war has itself been a major cause of humanitarian crisis. In March, the government said it had called a humanitarian cease-fire and would allow aid into the northern region of Tigray, where it is fighting separatist forces.
William Davison, a senior analyst covering Ethiopia for the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based research group, says “despite the humanitarian truce, there still seems to be around one convoy of aid reaching Tigray per week, so that is nothing like the unrestricted access for humanitarian agencies that’s needed.” “We should also note that there has been no move by the federal government yet to restore vital public services to Tigray including banking, telecoms and electricity,” he added.
The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the north, combined with those likely to be affected by the drought in the south, brings the total to almost 12.5 million Ethiopians in need of help, according to U.N. figures.
The National Disaster Risk Management Commission of Ethiopia, a branch of the Ethiopian government, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.