Ethiopia faces worst drought in 30 years

UN says millions in Ethiopia need food aid.

Over seven million people out of a population of over 94 million are now facing severe hunger in Ethiopia, especially in North Wollo, one of the regions that was badly hit by the famines of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

The United Nations (UN) has termed it the worst drought in 60 years and in August issued a warning that acute malnutrition had risen above emergency levels, with 4.5 million in danger. Estimates have now risen to 7.5 million and the UN says that if aid does not arrive 15 million people will need food aid next year. The UN's children's agency UNICEF is already saying that 300,000 children are severely malnourished.

Reports of drought are coming in from all over the country. A man from east Ethiopia who lived through the 1973 and 1984-85 famines is reported by Canada's Catholic Register as saying that he has never seen the country so dry. Severe drought is also being reported in Borena in the southern Oromia region.

Seasonal rains have failed and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has predicted that the harvest is well below average and has observed unusually high levels of livestock deaths.

The lack of rain has been triggered by the El Nino, the warm currents that develop periodically in the central and eastern Pacific, changing the world's natural climate cycles and producing severe effects such as drought or flooding. This year's El Nino patterns are thought to be the strongest in the last 20 years.

The Ethiopian government has earmarked €30 million for emergency aid. This is a small sum compared with the UN's assessment that €237 million is needed.

It is also a small sum compared with the investments in large prestige infrastructure projects such as the Renaissance Dam in the north and the Gilgel Gibe 3 dam in the south for electricity generation. It is also a fraction of the €3.5 billion estimated for the new international airport that will be built within a 100km radius of Addis Ababa, or even the €300 million terminal expansion now underway at Ethiopia's existing Bole International airport.