Beyeda, a woreda in the Northern Gondar zone, stands as one among several areas in the Amhara Regional State that have been devastated by the two-year war in Northern Ethiopia, which ravaged the entire northern region of the country. Following the signing of the Pretoria Agreement, which brought about a cessation of hostilities, residents who had fled the war and returned now strive to rebuild their lives.
Yet, the prospect of resuming life in Beyeda remains elusive.c
As a dire consequence of the drought, more than 35,000 households in the affected region have fallen into the grips of hunger, while over 17,000 livestock have perished. Regrettably, the government has thus far only managed to provide food assistance to a meager 2,100 households.
Unfortunately, the challenges faced are not exclusive to its borders. The drought crisis has extended its grip to new hotspots in the Amhara Regional State, including Janamora, Sekota, and Waghimra. For instance, in Janamora alone, six woredas have been identified as requiring emergency food assistance, placing over 86,000 individuals at risk. According to data from the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC), the federal government has been able to provide 14,552 quintals of aid to Janamora thus far.
Deeply concerned by the outbreak of drought, officials from the Amhara Regional State swiftly journeyed to Addis Ababa last week to mobilize funding resources at the national level.
“The severity of the drought is evident as every crop and greenery has died in certain areas of the region. In some parts, all vegetation and crops have completely dried up. We are currently conducting a study to assess the aid required,” Gebrehiwot Belayneh, the head of the Agriculture Bureau of Beyeda woreda, said.
He acknowledges that the government failed to respond promptly to the risks predicted by meteorological forecasts.
Unfortunately, the Amhara Regional State is not the sole exception in this regard. Tigray, along with the recently formed regional states in the southern part of Ethiopia, also find themselves in urgent need of emergency food assistance.
Typically, the primary rainy months for the majority of Ethiopia are from June to September, with occasional rainfall occurring in certain areas during May. However, during the last rainy season, this did not occur in some parts of Amhara, Tigray, Afar, and the Southern Regions. These areas experienced severe rainfall deficiencies, enduring five consecutive rainy seasons without a single drop of rain.
Except for the areas near the Awash River, all regions of the Afar Regional State are grappling with food shortages due to the frequent skipping of rainfall in certain parts. The adverse effects of the drought are particularly felt in areas such as Afdera, Bidu, Rebti, AwaraGulina, Sununta, and Ewa kebeles and woredas, as confirmed by local officials.
Both pastoralists and farmers in these regions are severely exposed to the dire consequences of the drought.
“Areas currently affected by drought were once engulfed in war. In locations like Dalol and Koneba, where intense fighting occurred with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, there is a significant population of internally displaced people,” Mohammed Ali, communication head of the Afar Regional State, said.
Afar, known for its limited rainfall, is now experiencing the worst conditions in these areas, he says. “The previous winter witnessed a complete absence of rain, resulting in dried-out grass and depleted rivers.”
Mohammed says they are wondering “whether we will receive any rainfall. If October passes without rain, it will become evident that we won’t see any until the next season.”
The regional government, according to him, anticipates that the drought will persist. He emphasized, “We are making preparations, considering the well-being of children and the elderly.”
The problem extends beyond regions like Afar, known for their minimal annual rainfall. This time, areas that were once known for receiving ample rain throughout the year, such as west Oromia and Benishangul, now find themselves more susceptible to drought.
“Rainfall has dropped in Benishangul and West Oromia, but the threat posed by this decline is relatively less severe. However, other parts of the country, particularly the southeastern region of Ethiopia, are grappling with a severe drought,” explained Adamu Solomon, a senior expert at the Benishangul Meteorology Service Center, which also covers West Oromia.
In Benishangul, the majority of people rely on artisanal gold mining for their livelihood, with only a small portion engaged in farming, according to Adamu. “Consequently, the impact of the drought on the local economy is less pronounced.”
The areas most affected by the current drought in Amhara, Afar, Tigray, and Oromia also display severe damages caused by conflicts. Local and regional administrations are now compelled to prioritize drought disaster response over post-conflict reconstruction.
Despite the relative stability following the signing of the Pretoria Agreement, many war-affected communities have been unable to access humanitarian aid. This is primarily due to the cessation of operations by the two major humanitarian organizations, World Food Programme and USAID, for a period exceeding six months.
A significant humanitarian disaster is anticipated in various regions of Ethiopia where people are unable to cultivate their land due to the drought. With multiple regions experiencing drought simultaneously, the demands have already surpassed the capacities of the government.
According to the report released by UNOCHA on October 9, 2023, a staggering total of 20.1 million people are currently in dire need of emergency food assistance.
Only 30 percent of the required USD four billion in funding for 2023 has been secured. Conflict, violence, drought, floods, and other man-made and natural disasters across Ethiopia have contributed to the escalating humanitarian needs.
The report states, “Out of the 20.1 million people in need of food assistance, 13 million are enduring the severe impacts of drought in southern and eastern Ethiopia.”
The report further highlights the severe impact of drought in various parts of Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, Afar, and Sidama Regional States. North Gondar, Central Gondar, North Shewa, North and South Wollo, South Gondar, Waghimra, and the Oromo Special zones have also been significantly affected.
Atalele Abay, the public relations officer at the NDRMC, holds the regional governments and local administrations accountable for their failure to respond promptly to drought forecasts and early warning systems.
He also attributes the exacerbation of the crisis to the withdrawal of food aid provision.
“To fill this gap, the government has begun collaborating with regional governments and has approved action plans for all regional states. However, the regional states have not taken adequate action,” Atalele said. “It is crucial for them to understand that the federal government will not provide aid if they simply wait for assistance.”
Atalele says “Amhara and Tigray, in particular, have been heavily dependent on the food aid supplies from WFP and USAID, and they have been the most affected since the aid was suspended.”
Following the suspension of aid by USAID and WFP, the federal government took action by delivering essential provisions such as edible oil, wheat, maize, and flour to 3.8 million individuals affected by the drought. Recently, the government also supplied 610,000 quintals of grain to support four million people in need.
Atalele explained that the distribution began last week, benefiting all regional states.
“We transported these food supplies from national reserve warehouses located in Kombolcha, Adama, and Woreta. Furthermore, people in the drought-affected areas will receive one million liters of edible oil,” he stated. Atalele also emphasized that the most recent distribution includes over 54,000 quintals of nutritious food.
“While the federal government is making efforts to bridge the gap left by the withdrawal of USAID and WFP, it is essential for regional states to have the capability to address the most affected areas within their respective regions,” Atalele added.
However, Atalele cautioned that the situation may worsen in the future.
“We have identified over 200 areas in Ethiopia that are prone to flood disasters. We have virtually communicated these warnings to all regional and local governments. This risk extends to all regional states and city administrations, including Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The government must swiftly restock the reserve warehouses to ensure preparedness,” he explained.
Yonas Amare contributed to this article.