Food security outlook for Ethiopia, October 2015 to March 2016. A large-scale food security emergency is projected for 2016. Graphic: FEWS NET

19 November 2015 (IRIN) – Alarm bells are ringing for a food emergency in Ethiopia. The UN says 15 million people will need help over the coming months.

The government, wary of stigma and therefore hesitant to ask for help, has nevertheless said more than eight million Ethiopians need food assistance.

Extra imports to stem the crisis are already pegged at more than a million tonnes of grain, beyond the government’s means. Inevitably, comment and media coverage compare the current situation with 1984 – the year Ethiopia’s notorious famine hit the headlines. Reports suggest this is the worst drought in 30 years. One declares it a “code red” drought. So how bad actually is it?

The country of close to 100 million people is huge, spread over an area of more than a million square kilometres that ranges from semi-desert to swamp to mountain ranges and fertile farmland. The weather systems and agricultural patterns are diverse and complex. Even within the higher-altitude areas of the country, the most densely populated, the typical rainy seasons vary and crops are grown at different times of the year. This year, the weather has been prone to even greater variation due to the global climate phenomenon El Niño, last seen in 1997-1998.

Ethiopia produces more than 90 percent of its own food. Last year, the cereal harvest was estimated to be 23 million tonnes, but imports in recent years averaged 1.2 million tonnes – just five percent of that. So even if 2015 and 2016 are bad years (the impact of a poor harvest is felt months later as food stocks run out), the vast majority of Ethiopian people will support themselves and eat produce from their own country. But in a giant like Ethiopia, 15 percent of the population is 15 million people – more than the entire humanitarian caseload of the Syrian crisis. An extra five percent of cereals is another 1.2 million tonnes.The costs and logistics become formidable at this scale. […]

Considering all the variables, the drought and famine watchdog FEWS NET, established in the wake of the 1984 famine, has used direct, but not alarmist, language to describe the prospects: its latest report for Ethiopia is titled “Large-scale food security emergency projected for 2016”. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, meanwhile, warned: “food security conditions sharply deteriorated.” [more]

How bad is the drought in Ethiopia?

Key Messages

  • In 2015, eastern Ethiopia had a severe drought. The drought contributed to low crop production for both the Belg and Meher harvests, poor livestock health, low water availability, and lack of demand for agricultural labor.

  • A major food security emergency is projected for the coming year. Already, some northern pastoral areas have moved into Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

  • The Ethiopia Humanitarian Country Team (EHCT) has early estimates that 15 million people will likely need food assistance in 2016, around half covered through the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) and the rest through emergency assistance. Needs are likely to be particularly high in July and August 2016 during the peak of the lean season in Meher-producing areas. In many areas of the country, lean season may start early this year.

  • The most food insecure areas include southern Afar and northern Somali Region, areas already in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in October. Also, the lowlands of East and West Hararghe Zones are expected to move into Emergency (IPC Phase 4) from January to March 2015.

  • Other areas at risk of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) include lowlands in Arsi and West Arsi Zones in central Oromia and some areas in the northeastern highlands, including parts of Wag Himra and North Wollo Zones in Amhara. These areas are currently projected to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through March. [more]

Large-scale food security emergency projected for 2016



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