What the Crisis in Ethiopia Means for America

February 23, 2016 By Sung Lee

A humanitarian crisis is brewing in East Africa, where Ethiopia is currently facing its worst drought in 50 years. Over ten million people are in need of emergency food assistance, including more than six million children, according to Save the Children.

The drought is driven by one of the strongest El Niño shifts in weather in recent years. Lack of rain and high temperatures have significantly limited agricultural production and exacerbated food insecurity in Ethiopia, where more than 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Since the 1983-1985 famine that killed almost a million people, Ethiopia has made tremendous progress in preventing and responding to droughts. But this year’s large-scale drought is far more than what the country can handle on its own. El Niño is affecting not only East Africa, but also Guatemala and Honduras in Central America, countries that have made progress against hunger and poverty but where millions are in need of immediate food assistance.

Thanks to the Ethiopian government’s leadership to prioritize poverty-alleviation and to multilateral donor commitments, Ethiopia has experienced a 33 percent decrease in the share of the population living in poverty since 2000 and has sustained an average economic growth of 10 percent annually. The Ethiopian government has also invested its own resources for development and already met its commitment to allocate more than 10 percent of the national budget to agriculture.

Alongside Ethiopia’s efforts, the U.S. has been making strategic investments to build the country’s resilience. America has been helping to feed the most at-risk populations, and has increased farmers’ access to high-yielding and drought tolerant maize (corn) seeds to boost household incomes. Through partnerships, America has helped to establish the Productive Safety Net Program, a food-for-work program designed to provide food to Ethiopia’s most vulnerable households in exchange for public work to build community resilience.

The U.S. recently committed $97 million to help the Ethiopian government’s famine prevention efforts, bringing the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to $542 million since October 2014. Yet this is far short of $1.4 billion that the United Nations needs to tackle this crisis. If the world does not respond in a timely fashion, the drought in Ethiopia could turn into famine and foster political destabilization, reversing years of economic and development gains.

Overall, the President’s recently released FY17 International Affairs budget request of $54 billion represents a reduction of about a 1 percent decrease in funding, including a cut to humanitarian assistance. At the same time, the number of humanitarian crises requiring global response doubled in the past fifteen years.

As the Hon. James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, recently testified, the world will most likely see political instability and humanitarian crises this year as results of extreme weather and climate change.

So as world crises continue to grow, will our nation’s funding to meet the challenges keep pace?

Photo: Source, USAID