Photo courtesy of Laura Rance

This photo, taken a year ago, showing dry and dusty conditions is from Hawassa, Ethiopia, on the shores of the Great Rift Valley. El Nino weather patterns are creating similar conditions across Ethiopia right now. 


Canadian Foodgrains Bank is monitoring the situation in Ethiopia, where a prolonged spring drought followed by a delay in the summer rains is contributing to a potentially severe hunger emergency.

According to the United Nations, about nine million people, or 10 per cent of Ethiopia’s population, are directly dependent on these spring rains for their livelihoods.

Compounding the situation, an El Nino warming trend during the summer planting season also delayed rains, weakening the harvest that in a normal year feeds over 80 per cent of the country. The El Nino trend has also sent excessive rains to some parts of the country.

“It’s alarming,” says Jim Cornelius, Executive Director of the Foodgrains Bank. “There is the potential here for a severe hunger situation impacting a lot of people.”

One immediate impact of the hunger emergency is a drop in school attendance, says Cornelius.

 In Ethiopia, like in many African countries, parents must pay for books, uniforms, and other schooling costs.

“When families can’t afford to eat, it means they also can’t afford to send their children to school,” he says. “The impacts of the emergency go far beyond not having enough to eat.”

Preventing as many people as possible from being forced into this and other drastic coping measures is the goal of the Ethiopian government’s early warning system that monitors local climate, food security situations, and food markets.

The hope is that hunger emergencies can be caught and responded to early, before becoming full-scale disasters.

The Foodgrains Bank is owned by 15 Canadian based churches and church-based agencies, including Mennonite Central Committee.

The Foodgrains Bank has had a continuous presence in Ethiopia since the 1980s, both responding to food emergencies and supporting the efforts of farmers to grow more food in the longer term, says Cornelius.

“Through our members, we are talking to our long-standing Ethiopian partners to decide what our next steps will be, while continuing to closely monitor what’s happening,” he adds. 

--Amanda Thorsteinsson is Communications Officer with the Foodgrains Bank

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