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The drought in Oromia has reached a crisis point

Misery is mounting in the hardest-hit zones.

Prolonged water shortages have produced malnutrition, including through the loss of livestock, in the southern and south-eastern lowlands of Ethiopia.

Three consecutive below-average rainy seasons have brought on drought conditions in four regions in Ethiopia: Oromia, Somali, Southern Nations, and Southwest. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (UNOCHA) projections indicate that more than 6.8 million people in these four regions are affected by the drought.

People in these same areas have barely recuperated from the severe drought in 2017. If rainfall in March-April 2022 is again below average, a fourth consecutive failed rainy season will push residents into an even more desperate situation.

The drought itself is explained by environmental factors, such as climate change. Ethiopia has endured ten major droughts since 1980, and the country’s annual temperature has been rising by 0.37 degrees Celsius per decade.

Political factors, such as an insufficient governmental response, the civil war in northern Ethiopia, and instability in other regions, have exacerbated the environmental crisis.

Oromia

In Oromia, more than 800,244 people in eight zones are currently facing severe hunger amid the drought, according to Mustafa Kedir of Oromia’s disaster and displacement commission.

As the majority in the region are agro-pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on rain or pastoralists who earn a living through livestock, the consequences of the drought, such as the drying up of pasture lands and depletion of water reserves, have severely worsened existing food insecurity.

In the hardest-hit zones in Oromia, including Borena, Guji, and East Bale, crops have failed while farmers, too desperate to feed their animals, are forced to watch their cattle dying every day.

In January alone, an estimated 260,000 livestock perished across southern Oromia, Somali, and Southern Nations regions. An additional two million livestock are at risk in these areas. The market value for livestock has plummeted, as emaciated animals are not marketable.

The drought has also impacted children who are currently suffering or are likely to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the coming months. In Oromia and Somali regions, an estimated 225,000 children are malnourished and over 100,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women are in need of nutritional support.

East Bale

In East Bale Zone, the rain shortage has caused severe damage to crops and animals, limiting people’s ability to access food.

Jeylan Adam, East Bale Communication Bureau head, said: “Some areas such as Rayitu, Sewena, Dawe Kachen, Dawe Sarar, and Lege Hida have been suffering from the devastating effects of climate change, and the current drought puts the food security and water distribution of vulnerable people under threat.”

In Rayitu Wereda, 76 kilometers from Ginir, the zonal capital, scores of villagers have been forced out by the drought and fled to other areas.

In an interview with Ethiopia Insight in late January, Mustefa Umer, a farmer from Rayitu Wereda, said: “This year, we have seen a wave of massive drought and, as a result, our lands did not produce any crops, and we don’t have any sources of drinkable water either for us or for our animals. It is infuriating to think that the current conditions will force us to leave the rural areas and that our lands will be left as ruins.”

Jeylan’s figures show that 270,000 people in East Bale Zone are in need of emergency food assistance. He estimates that half of the around 10,000 cattle in East Bale have already perished. Farmers who have kept their cattle alive have spent their savings and even taken on loans.

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Hamid Hussein, a farmer from Sewena Wereda in East Bale Zone, told Ethiopia Insight: “Because of the drought, I was unable to feed my cattle; now I am overwhelmed with debt.”

Although no data has been collected to show how many children are affected in East Bale, the conditions will no doubt have serious effects on the physical and mental development of many.

Dereje Negash, a medical worker at Ginir Hospital, said: “People are already starving in our area and situations are continuing to decline rapidly. My fellow medical workers are saying the increase in cases of acute malnutrition amongst children will only get worse.”

Humanitarian response

The federal administration has been providing humanitarian aid in order to avert a catastrophe in the immediate term. As a longer-term goal, it appears the government is planning to roll out different water projects to avoid future droughts.

Government and community resource mobilization is ongoing at the regional and local levels, including 200 million birr in drought response funds raised by the Somali regional administration. For its part, Oromia’s regional government is preparing a drought response plan with humanitarian partners to mitigate the effects of the drought.

In an interview with Ethiopian News Agency, Mustafa Kedir said that 197,896 quintals of food were provided to the drought-affected Borena Zone alone and similar works have been done in other areas, including providing water and cattle feed.

Mustafa mentioned the importance of receiving help from international donors as the regional and federal governments cannot tackle the situation on their own.

In line with this need, UNICEF has asked for $31 million in additional funding as part of its drought response for impacted areas in Ethiopia. Donors have already allocated some funding for the drought response, including $25 million by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) since December 2020 and $2 million by the Ethiopian Humanitarian Fund (EHF).

Adnan Nuru, a local resident of Sewena Wereda who lost 24 cattle and is now left with only one, told us: “Though the government’s assistance is very limited and not enough, it will give us extra time to push ahead.”

UNOCHA has echoed these sentiments, citing an urgent need for the ongoing government-led and humanitarian partners-supported multi-sectoral response to be scaled up.

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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Main photo: Emaciated cattle in Borena as a result of the drought; October 2021; Fana.

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