Ethiopia: Tough months ahead as rains fail for the fifth season in a row with millions in need of urgent food assistance

By Save the Children

Ethiopia: Tough months ahead as rains fail for the fifth season in a row with millions in need of urgent food assistance

Back-to-back droughts caused by five failed rainy seasons have left 12 million Ethiopians facing hunger as conflict and forced displacement exacerbate the hunger crisis in the country, Save the Children said.

Of the 22.6 million people estimated to be facing severe food shortages, more than half of them are reeling from climate-induced shocks with conflict, inflation, and forced displacement causing further misery and children facing increased risk of death from malnutrition.

Ethiopia is facing one of the worst food crises in the world, with 3.9 million children severely malnourished– accounting for around half of the people suffering from malnutrition across the whole of the Horn of Africa. The deaths of more than four million livestock have dried up the main source of nutrition for children in Ethiopia – milk.

Amina, 40, is a pastoralist who lives in a camp for internally displaced people in the Somali region. She arrived at the camp one year ago with her eight children after the drought killed off her livestock. Before the drought, she was a proud pastoralist with 100 goats, 20 camels, and a donkey until the drought destroyed 90% of her livestock, forcing her to relocate to the camp.

She said: “The animals started to die one after the other and when the donkey died, I knew it was time to leave the village. Without the donkey, we could no longer fetch water to drink.”

Amina is one of 534,000 people forced from their homes due to drought, living in displacement camps, and relying on food aid from the government and humanitarian organizations to feed their families. Without milk from her livestock, her nutrition options are limited, she said.

“I cook for them Injera (Ethiopia’s a sour fermented pancake-like flatbread), sometimes boil the wheat for lunch, and in the evening make them some porridge from wheat flour. This is all we eat. I know that the dry season is coming and I am worried… my children’s physical appearance has changed – they look healthy but they are becoming thin,” Amina said.

The crippling drought in Ethiopia is likely to lead to widespread and severe levels of food shortage through at least mid-2023, despite ongoing humanitarian aid, with millions unable to generate income and access food.

This could lead to a spike in people facing a crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC 3 or 4) in most parts of Ethiopia, and fuel high levels of malnutrition and even death.

Save the Children’s Country Director for Ethiopia, Xavier Joubert, said: “There is no end in sight for the hunger crisis and hope is slowly fizzling out as families enter the January to March dry season with little hope for rainfall. Estimates show that the March to May 2023 rainfall will also be below average, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of people in need of emergency food aid and driving many into catastrophic levels of hunger. While our teams are on the ground and doing whatever they can for children, there’s no doubt that the need has grown to an enormous scale. Additional funds, particularly to support longer-term resilience programming, are desperately needed in order to expand operations and reach the most vulnerable children and their families, and help them cope with multiple and frequent humanitarian shocks in the future.”

Save the Children has been operating in Ethiopia for over 60 years and was amongst the first respondents to the conflict in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions while continuing humanitarian assistance to the prolonged humanitarian crises in Oromia and Somali regions. The organization’s work is heavily anchored on health and nutrition as well as life-saving water and sanitation assistance, protection services, education support, and cash and in-kind distributions to the most vulnerable children and their families.

In 2022, Save the Children reached more than 3,195,699 people including 1,623,370 children through lifesaving food, water distribution, and treatment for malnutrition among other services.