Truth or Dare? Reflections on Ethiopia’s Drought Crisis

While it is certainly true that governments are to blame, it is equally true that most citizens of developed nations have played some kind a role in the tragedy that is striking Ethiopia.

Presently, more than 10 million people in Ethiopia are facing serious risks of hunger. It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century, where 222 million tons of food are wasted in developed countries annually, corresponding to almost as much as the net food production in Sub-Saharan Africa, millions of people still don’t have enough food to survive. Sadly, these numbers are no joke or exaggeration. They are the mirror of an imbalanced and unequal world where some have too much, while others battle on a daily basis for some scraps of food and water. However, this is not an article about the inequalities of the world. It is a call to attention for what is happening in the second most populated country in Africa, with one of the fastest growing economies – Ethiopia.

This sub-Saharan country, located in the horn of Africa, is now facing what has been called the “worst drought in 50 years”, mainly caused by El Niño. El Niño is characterised by “a periodic heating to the eastern tropical Pacific” causing alterations in the climate patterns worldwide. Depending on the region, the consequences can vary from floods to drought. El Niño is not a new occurrence and is, in fact, expected to happen every seven to eight years. What is of concern though, is that the rise in temperatures observed in recent years due to the man-made climate change makes the additional rise in temperature brought on by El Niño an unbearable strain for the planet to endure. And despite the fact that El Niño is not directly connected to climate change, it is making its consequences worse.

In fact, the extreme drought that is happening in Ethiopia is an effect of that mixing of events. The repercussions of this for the Ethiopian population are extremely worrying, as the shortage of water hampers agriculture and livestock production. Without water, crops fail and cattle die, and that is when food scarcity comes in. The drought and current conditions regarding food security in the country is so alarming that it has been said that its consequences are “as bad for children as Syria’s war”. In fact, 400 000 Ethiopian children are suffering from dreadful malnutrition that endangers their well-being, and more severely, their lives. It is not an exaggeration to say that Ethiopia is at serious risk of another famine crisis similar to the one from 1984-85 that shocked the Western world with images of men, women, and mostly children ‘wearing’ a body made of only skin and bone.

Nevertheless, the consequences of this critical drought go well beyond nutrition and affect various aspects of the lives of Ethiopians. Thousands of people, mostly women and children, are obliged to walk as much as six hours per day in order to fetch drinkable water, as the wells start to dry. More shockingly, in the most critical areas, more than 1 million children are not being educated due to the closure of schools.

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Several initiatives have been started in an attempt to cope with the issue. On an international level, organizations are making efforts to attenuate the effects of the drought. For instance, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is drawing action plans to aid thousands of households through agriculture production, livestock intervention and resilience-building programs, and the organization Save the Children has already allocated $50 million and plans to allocate $50 million more.

On the other hand, according to the head of the National Disaster Risk Management Commission, Mikitu Kassa, the Ethiopian government  invested “$272 million extra spending in 2015 and a further $109 million this year” to handle the drought crisis. Despite this, criticism has been directed at the national government, which is being accused of attempting to hide the severity of the situation. The accusations surfaced after BBC news exposed the story of a women from a rural area who had just lost her sick son who had gotten too weak due to lack of food. Demeke Mekonen, the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister, heavily criticized this report by saying that “it is obvious that the foreign media works with different bodies of special interest. There is no such thing as famine in Ethiopia these days.”

Meanwhile, various news reports have highlighted the fact that “sub-Saharan African countries are failing to plan for climate change”. Without disregarding this fact, the focus of these news reports miss the most important factor: that Western, industrialized countries are failing to take responsibility and measures for what is happening in Ethiopia and in other Sub-Saharan countries, which are, in fact, the ones most affected by climate change.

For some, El Niño may be regarded as a normal phenomenon created by Mother Nature to balance the environmental ecosystem. However true this may be, this is only one side of the coin. In reality, the truth involves looking at the industrialized world and its unconscious, uncaring and irresponsible actions towards Earth and the environment. Year after year, we have witnessed an increase in gas emissions, which can be as high as 90% more when compared to 1970, and that have led to an unprecedented rise in global temperatures. And although recent information predicts a slight decrease, this is no reason to hold much hope. As Ban Ki-moon stated back in 2012, “The climate change phenomenon has been caused by the industrialization of the developed world, […] it’s only fair and reasonable that the developed world should bear most of the responsibility.”

Again, this is not an article about inequality. However, how can one not speak of it when it seems that one part of world perpetrates reckless actions while the other suffers the consequences? Shying away from placing blame would be neglecting the hardship of millions of people and abetting the choices of irresponsible governments. The damage and long-term consequences are too great for accountability to be ignored.

In a fair and just world, countries like China, the USA, and all the other agents that deliberately license environmentally harmful practices should take a step forward and take serious actions to ‘fix’ the damage done so far. This is necessary because as time passes, the deterioration of the planet following the continuing release of gas emission will continue to bring disasters such as this in Ethiopia.

One should however not see governments as solely responsible for what is happening in Ethiopia. Interestingly, individuals’ meat consumption is one of the greatest causes of climate change. In fact, “livestock and their by-products account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions”.  Additionally, livestock production accounts for 45% of total land use, and is one of the main causes of deforestation.  For some unknown reason, this issue is rarely addressed in speeches and debates about actions to combat climate change. But the fact is that the extravagant meat consumption in developed countries is, indeed, causing great damage to the planet. This fact can no longer be ignored if we wish to avoid catastrophes like the one now faced by millions of Ethiopians.

As such, it is certainly true that governments are to blame, but it is equally true that most citizens of developed nations have played some kind of role in the tragedy that is striking Ethiopia. The game of truth or dare, where some uncover reality while others insist on lies and hypocrisy cannot continue.

The people who are now starving, the children who are not going to school, and the women who have to walk endlessly to fetch water represent the face of humanity’s mistakes. For this to end, serious progress is needed. But progress requires change, and change require action that go beyond words and outrage. What happens next? Well, that’s up to you to decide.

Silvie Vale

Passionate about LGBT issues and human rights, Silvie Vale has recently graduated in Development and International Relations from Aalborg University, Denmark. She is specialized in Global Gender Studies and is particularly interested in creating awareness about matters of social justice. She loves travelling, researching and learning new things.
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