Prolonged drought following three consecutive failed rainy seasons since late 2020 has killed nearly 1.5 million livestock in the Oromia, Somali and southern part of Ethiopia, the latest report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has indicated.
According to the March 2022 situation report of UNFPA published on April 14, 2022, an estimated 25.9 million people in Ethiopia are in need of humanitarian aid and 4.2 million were internally displaced by the end of 2021.
The drought that is ravaging the Horn of Africa is having an impact on Ethiopia’s south and southeast, a lowland area with a large pastoralist community.
According to UNFPA, the drought has affected 6.8 million people living in these areas since the end of 2020. Communities in the affected areas rely heavily on cattle, which died off in large numbers.
The drought is jeopardizing pastoralists’ fragile livelihoods and worsening food insecurity and malnutrition, eroding coping strategies for the most vulnerable, the report asserts.
Oromia regional state’s Borena zone, alongside Somali region, is one of the areas that are highly impacted by the drought. The situation in Borena zone is becoming more severe from time to time, as rainfall in March was very low, and aid is not reaching the area. In the middle of March, rainfall in Borena had only managed to cover a few woredas in the zone, providing only a small amount of moisture to the land.
The amount of rainfall in March was too small to be stored in reservoirs or insufficient for animal feed to grow on. According to the zone’s agriculture bureau, the rain has stopped, leaving a parched landscape.
According to Kassim Guyo (PhD), head of the zonal livestock development office, the number of livestock dying because of the drought has risen to more than 672,000, while the number of at-risk cattle has increased to half a million.
Even though more than 500,000 people out of the 1.4 million people living in the area require assistance, the aid reaching the area is insufficient to meet the demand. By the end of March, the zone’s health bureau had identified 46,000 people at various stages of malnutrition. According to Molu Dima, deputy head of the zone’s health bureau, 1,406 children under the age of five have been suffering from acute malnutrition and are being treated in hospitals.
Due to World Food Program (WFP) supply disruption, 16,401 children have been diagnosed with moderate acute malnutrition, but the majority of them are not receiving proper treatments to help them recover from malnutrition.
The health bureau is also not satisfied with the assistance supplied so far to those who are lucky enough to get it. Molu said that because there is scant food available in pastoralist households, the food supplied to one malnourished person will also be a meal for its family members.
“We recommend that general food distribution be rolled out to all of them,” Molu said, “but we aren’t even getting what is needed for those who are severely affected.”
Borena’s more than six million livestock are also being put to the test due to a lack of assistance. The zone’s livestock development office stated at the beginning of the drought that 3.1 billion birr is needed to address the problem until March 2022. However, as of the end of March, it had only obtained a very small percentage of that, according to Kassim (PhD).
The bureau asked for five million bales of grass but only received 11 percent of it. Furthermore, the amount of medicine acquired is 15 percent of what is needed. The zone is still requesting assistance to meet its vastly increased needs.
“Right now, the government, aid organizations, and wealthy individuals are all exhausted. For about a month, no aid has arrived in the area,” he stated.
Molu Dima noted, “what worries us now is that more people are becoming malnourished while we are dealing with earlier emergencies,” adding that, “the food aid we are currently distributing for malnourished people is not even fully packaged.”
Even though lack of assistance is worsening the situation in the areas affected by the drought, the lack of rainfall seems not to be resolved any time soon. According to Chali Debele, meteorological forecast and early warning director with the National Metrology Agency, even though the remaining two months of the Belg season, which lasts from February to May, might be rainy, the amount will be average or below average. The expected rain in the next two months will be a relief to get drinking water for livestock in the areas. However, the moisture from the rainfall will not be able to grow grass for cattle in the area, which in turn will lead to more of them perishing.
IGAD’s Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) indicates that the first month of the March to May (MAM) 2022 season was particularly dry. Overall, the region recorded higher temperatures and below-normal rainfall. As forecasted, should the rains fail for a fourth consecutive season, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia would go through a severe drought not experienced in the last 40 years.
“The March, April, May rains are crucial for the region and, sadly, we are looking at not just three, but potentially four consecutive failed seasons,” Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD), IGAD’s executive secretary, said.