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Ethiopia Facing Worst Drought in Decades

Ethiopia is facing an ecological nightmare as the worst El Niño-induced drought in decades has sparked a rapid decline in food security. With repeated crop failure and livestock herds being wiped out, 10.2 million Ethiopians are facing an uncertain future with the fear of hunger looming on the horizon.

The current El Niño pattern, the strongest ever recorded, has resulted in a reduction in crops by 50 to 90 per cent and even complete crop failure in some regions. According to the latest Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) assessments, livestock will also be leaner and sicker as a result of lack of access to pasture and water, making them  likely to perish early. 

Meanwhile malnutrition levels have spiked and the number of admissions of children with acute malnutrition is now at the highest that has ever been reported. 

"The outlook for 2016 is very grim," said Amadou Allahoury, FAO Representative for Ethiopia, adding that "after two consecutive seasons of failed crops, the success of the main cropping season that starts now will be critical to preventing conditions from worsening."

The El Niño effect is associated with the abnormal warming of sea surface temperature in parts of the Pacific Ocean resulting in severe effects on global weather and climate patterns, ultimately leading to reduced rainfall and drought in some regions and heavy rains and flooding in others.

In response to this crisis the FAO has presented a $50 million plan to assist households which are dependant on agriculture and livestock.

The new FAO plan aims to assist 1.8 million farmers and livestock keepers throughout 2016 to help reduce food gaps and restore agricultural production and incomes.

The first stage of the plan is to assist 131,500 households through agricultural production, especially for the first half of 2016, during the Meher season. This intervention includes emergency seed distribution, small-scale irrigation and backyard gardening initiative which will target support for seed producers and women’s empowerment.

Another 293,000 households will benefit from livestock interventions, which will include the distribution of emergency animal feed, vaccination drives to protect some 3 million animals against disease, and restocking of 100,000 goats and sheep to vulnerable households.

The third leg of the response plan will focus on strengthening livelihoods of more than 30,000 households and build their resilience to future shocks. This will include cash-for-work programs that will boost families' incomes.

 This part of the plan will also target farmers' and women's groups through integrated community projects that support community savings-and-loan schemes, farmer field schools and other methods to help families accumulate and diversify assets.

"In Ethiopia, El Niño is not just a food crisis — it's above all a livelihood crisis. And we need to intervene now to protect and rebuild these livelihoods and people's capacity to produce, to prevent families from becoming long-term dependent on food aid," said Dominique Burgeon, Leader of FAO's Strategic Programme on Resilience and Director of FAO's Emergencies and Rehabilitation Division.

FAO is appealing to donors to help raise the $50 million to implement this plan however it comes at a time when donations are stretched thinly to aid the multitude of issues currently being faced worlwide.

However, according to Burgeon intervention now is necessary to ensure farming livelihoods and help the country bounce back and prevent a chronic state of food insecurity.

"If response is delayed, recovery will be difficult and the cost of interventions will only increase," he stressed