The 2015-16 El Niño episode (Box 1), considered as one of the strongest of its kind to date, is finally over. But the devastating impact of two consecutive years of extreme weather and rain failure on crops, continues to be felt across the world. Nearly 100 million people in Africa, Asia and South America have been affected and are expected to face food shortages for several months to come1.
El Niño, ''the boy'' in Spanish, is a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean with global impact on weather patterns. The cycle begins when warm water in the western tropical Pacific Ocean shifts eastward along the equator toward the coast of South America. Developing countries dependent upon agriculture and fishing, particularly those bordering the Pacific Ocean, are the most affected. Opposite phase of El Niño is La Niña which means ''the girl''.
Due to the recent El Niño, Ethiopia has been experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades. With 98 per cent of its agriculture rainfed and over 80 per cent of its population still dependent on farming for livelihood, Ethiopia is among the hardest hit countries in Africa. The adverse impact of the El Niño has left an estimated 10.2 million people in need of emergency food assistance in 2016. More than 400,000 children are currently at risk of severe malnutrition. Areas located in the eastern and southern pastoralist regions of Ethiopia as well as some parts of the highlands (Figure 1) where both the short spring and the main summer rains failed have suffered especially.
The current drought in Ethiopia induced food crisis is a painful reminder of the horrific famines of 1973 and 1984 that killed more than 200,000 people. To avoid a similar tragedy, the Government of Ethiopia has taken steps and continues to strengthen safety nets and early warning systems with the support of international aid agencies. But the extreme severity of the current food crisis and its rapid deterioration has overwhelmed the systems in place. The number of people affected went from 2.9 million in March 2015 to 4.5 million in August and rose to 8.2 million in September last year. So far, the Government has spent more than 300 million USD towards relief and has pledged to inject more money by shifting the development budget should international donors fail to meet the requirement of 1 billion dollars to override this crisis.
By Caroline Raes, Programme Manager and Lulit Assefa, Assistant Manager & Ethiopia Team, IPE Africa