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Ethiopia Seeks Help to Survive Drought

FILE - An unidentified government official sits on sacks of wheat donated by the U.S. at a food distribution point near Jijiga, eastern Ethiopia, Dec. 1, 2009.

Drought has ruined this year's harvest for many Ethiopian farmers. In a country where 85 percent of the people are farmers, millions are in need of aid.

The government has purchased nearly 1 million metric tons of wheat at a cost of about $280 million to get through the next three to four months.

Government spokesman Getachew Redda said the government is in control of the crisis, but is also focused on measures that will reduce the impact of future droughts.

“From a strategic point of view," Redda said, "the government will continue to further enhance its efforts to develop underground water resources and develop irrigation mechanisms which do not have to depend on the varieties of weather.”

Experts believe the reduction in rainfall is due to the El Nino weather phenomenon. While cycles of drought are expected every 10 to 12 years, the frequency of droughts and erratic rainfalls is expected to increase because of global climate change.

Wagayehu Bekele, climate director at Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency, said getting better information to farmers so they can adjust their schedules is a priority.

“Farmers have traditional wisdom," Bekele said. "They know when to sow, they know when to harvest, when to cultivate. But the problem now is that traditional wisdom is not working anymore. The problem is, even if the rain starts early, they don’t start sowing or planting. Why? They say it's not the normal time to plant.”

Modernizing traditional practices is part of a short-term solution. Wagayehu thinks that focusing on sustainable ways of farming is just as important.

Agriculture makes up almost half of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product. The lack of rain has severely affected the lowlands and livestock.

Araya Asfaw, director of the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Center and Network, said not enough information about the effect of climate change on Africa is available.

“The model for Africa is not as good because we don’t have enough data, meteorological data, to predict what will happen," Asfaw said. "We need to have more meteorological stations all over the place.”

Drought and hunger have been sensitive topics in Ethiopia since the infamous famine in the early 1980s that killed over 400,000 people. The government says that the current drought has not killed anyone yet, but that about 8 million people need assistance. The United Nations estimates that number will nearly double in the coming months.

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