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FAO Emergencies Director assesses the Scale of the Drought and Response in Afar Region, Ethiopia

In less than a year, Holo Molo has lost more than a third of his livestock. The father of 14 living in the chronically drought-prone woreda of Elidar, Afar Region is just one of millions of Ethiopian livestock owners who have had their livelihoods uprooted as a result of drought aggravated by El Niño. Despite the significant damage caused by the crisis, Holo contends that he is lucky. “I know a woman who has lost everything, all her animals are dead.”

Since 2015, thousands of households have helplessly watched their animals starve in Afar, an arid region in northwest Ethiopia neighboring Eritrea and Djibouti. The drought caused severe pasture and water shortages in communities almost totally dependent on livestock rearing – ninety percent of the population tend animals for their food and income.

Believed to be the worst drought in nearly half a century, it will take years for families hardest hit by the El Niño-induced crisis to recover. The impact on food and nutrition security has been significant; the vast majority of the region’s districts have been classified as priority one or facing the greatest levels of food insecurity according to the Government of Ethiopia.

In Elidar, the critical karan rains – usually occurring between July and September – were considered late and erratic. The contribution of the previous spring season was minor, only slightly improving pasture and water access between the months of March and May. Already, Elidar’s limited pasture has largely been depleted. Many herding households now depend on infrequent flash floods that send water tumbling from the mountains to be used domestically and for livestock.

The thickets of the mountains are also where many of Elidar’s citizens send their animals to search for feed. FAO spoke with Mutha Ahmed as she tended small ruminants on the banks of a water point constructed by the UN agency in the drought prone community. The mother of five lost 50 sheep and goats during the crisis. “Almost everything has dried up, there is nothing here for animals to eat,” Mutha reflected. “We have not had good rains in years, many people are now scared because the karan season has been poor and it has not fully rained,” said Mutha. With the worst of the lean season approaching in mid-October and November, Afar’s animals should be thriving ahead of the most difficult time of the year. Complicating matters is the fact that milk – critical for the food and nutrition security of most in the Region – has been slow to return to normal production levels, a consequence of prolonged drought.

Dwindling resources in an underfunded sector

Despite losing a significant portion of her livestock, Mutha indicated that she did not qualify for emergency animal feed support, a claim supported by regional officials on the ground. “I lost animals, but so many more were worse off than me. I can understand why I was not given anything for my herd,” she said. As a result of limited resources in this particular area, priority was given to households with lactating animals or breastfeeding infants in order to safeguard the food and nutrition security of the most vulnerable.

The emergency livestock response is severely underfunded in Ethiopia. Almost 2.4 million households critically require livelihoods assistance to the tune of USD 36.2 million until the end of the year. Preliminary reports suggest that the sector has only received USD 12 million in humanitarian sector funding for 2015 and 2016 emergency drought interventions. With the crop sector demanding very significant  resources, particularly to procure seeds for the meher (summer) season (from which 85 percent of Ethiopia’s food supply is derived), the bulk of agriculture-related humanitarian investments were funneled into saving the country’s local crop production.

In August 2016, FAO clarified the priorities of Ethiopia’s livestock sector, highlighting the most urgent funding needed to support emergency interventions. These include animal health and emergency vaccinations for livestock, determined as critical in livestock-dependent regions such as Afar and Somali as well as Borena Zone of Oromia Region and South Omo Zone of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. The findings were published in the Mid-Year Review of the 2016 Humanitarian Requirements Document (HRD).

FAO’s Director of the Emergencies, Dominique Burgeon, met with numerous drought-affected households in Elidar and other communities in Afar Region during a recent field mission to Ethiopia. Mr Burgeon was also accompanied by FAO Representative to Ethiopia, Amadou Allahoury, and members of his team. The group spoke with beneficiaries of FAO’s fodder seed distribution and assessed the livestock situation in some of the worst-affected priority-one hotspot districts in the Region. The team also viewed local interventions to cope with drought, such as traditional water steam harvesting.

“The situation on the ground remains very critical in Afar and other livestock-dependent areas of the country. While significant resources have been deployed for crop sector support over the last several months, we cannot neglect to fully address the pressing needs of the livestock sector,” said Mr Burgeon.

“The people of Afar have developed numerous innovations in order to cope with the effects of recurrent drought, a reflection of their inherent resilience as a people,” he remarked. “FAO is committed to partnering with local authorities and communities like in Elidar and elsewhere in Ethiopia, in order to jointly amplify our efforts in the difficult months ahead with a strategic focus on recovery and resilience building.”

FAO Ethiopia provided fast-growing fodder seed to at-risk agropastoral communities in order to enable households to produce animal feed independently. During the drought, the Organization also distributed multinutrient-dense ‘energy blocks’ to protect core breeding animals, and delivered animal feed along migratory routes. FAO’s regional water rehabilitation projects improved access to water for livestock, benefiting more than 125 000 livestock owned by about 13 000 households. The Organization also supported strategic destocking through the purchase of thousands of livestock with low body weight which after a health inspection, was distributed to some of the worst-affected internally displaced people.

FAO has mobilized nearly USD 14 million to respond to the crisis. The Organization is now urgently requesting an additional USD 14 million to implement livelihood-saving interventions in the livestock and crop sectors until the end of 2016.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).