For the last year, Ethiopia has been scraping through the worst drought the country has seen in 50 years. But there are no scenes reminiscent of 1984, when a lack of rain contributed to the death of more than a million Ethiopians. For that, the Ethiopian government deserves some credit. But the country still faces a dangerous future, especially given the lack of attention from the rest of the world.
Crop production in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray and Afar regions has dropped between 50 and 90 percent. By most estimates, hundreds of thousands of livestock have already died. And with the cattle and crops lost, pressure is mounting on the 80 percent of Ethiopia’s population that subsists on rain-dependant agriculture. “People are not starving but they’re close to starving—we need to address this moment right now, before it gets worse,” a coordinator with a non-governmental organization in Adigrat, Tigray’s second largest town, told me. “The government is trying its best but it needs assistance.”
Tigray is a land of cliffs, gorges, and flat-topped mesas dotted under bright blue skies. Its rainy seasons have always been more erratic than those in the central Ethiopian highlands to the south, where a typical three-month-long rainy season wins Ethiopia the status as Africa’s water tower. But the severity of this drought has stunned even farmers who have spent decades working in Tigray’s arid conditions. And they aren’t alone. Neighboring Somalia has about three million people hit by crop failures and food shortages, according to the United Nations; Zimbabwe is now asking for about $1 billion to deal with its drought; and even South Africa, the continent’s second-largest economy, is struggling with the fallout of a drought.
In the early days of the drought after the failed spring rains in 2015, Ethiopia tried to tackle the situation itself. Its extensive food security network, developed in the decades since the 1984 famine, shuddered into action. It ramped up the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), a
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