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10 Million in Ethiopia Face Hunger After Worst Drought in Decades

  • Anita Powell

FILE - A mother quenches her malnourished child's thirst while waiting for food handouts at a health center in drought-stricken remote Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia, also known as the Ogaden, July 2011.

FILE - A mother quenches her malnourished child's thirst while waiting for food handouts at a health center in drought-stricken remote Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia, also known as the Ogaden, July 2011.

Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in 50 years. Save the Children has launched an urgent call for food aid but says that is only a temporary fix and world leaders meeting in Paris must act on climate change.

Ethiopia's government says a staggering 10.1 million people will face critical food shortages in 2016 — and that more than half of those are children. Adding to that, an estimated 400,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition — a condition that can lead to stunting and physical and mental problems.

John Graham, Save the Children's Country Director in Ethiopia, says this year’s crisis is the result of a cascade of meteorological dominoes — a severe drought related to the El Nino weather phenomenon ruined two major expected rainfalls this year. As a result, the next harvest is not expected to come until June of next year.

Spoking to VOA News from Addis Ababa, Graham said: "So we’re seeing one thing piling on top of another and it’s really affecting the rural population very badly.”

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that around 80 percent of Ethiopians work in the agriculture sector — and most of those are subsistence farmers who rely on rain-fed farming. That is part of the reason that this nation sees food crises time and time again — farmers lack the means and the knowledge to work around weather challenges.

Save the Children is appealing for about $100 million in donor aid from the international community — but he says this year is the slowest response he’s seen to such a crisis in his 18 years in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has already committed a record sum — $192 million.

Graham says he also wants to see bigger, more meaningful, change coming from world leaders who are currently meeting in Paris for climate change talks.

“I’d say that we should be spending a lot more effort on adaptation of people who are badly affected by climate change, and helping them to transition to new livelihoods, to be able to cope with the impact of climate change," he said. "Because so much of the focus doesn’t seem to be on that area at all. It’s on other things that are worthwhile, like making sure that there is a reduction in the carbon emissions and so on. But we should also care about those people, especially the poorest people, who are dramatically impacted by these climate changes, and why aren’t we investing more in helping them to adapt?”

This is one of many questions that climate change negotiators are asking this week. Developing countries are pushing to have funding for them to adapt to climate change included in any binding international agreement that comes out of the Paris summit.

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