Ethiopia is suffering from the worst drought on record. It is vital that the United States and its partners act now to sustain the progress that has been made over the years in reducing hunger. The drought is caused in part by El Nino, which has disrupted weather patterns worldwide, and led to a widespread hunger crisis in Ethiopia today.
The Ethiopian government estimates that 10.2 million people are in need of emergency food aid. Hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of severe malnutrition because of lack of food. They are in addition to the nearly 8 million people already receiving aid through Ethiopia’s existing anti-hunger and similar programs.
A decade before the drought, Ethiopia’s economy grew by 10 percent annually. This enabled it to invest in agriculture and infrastructure, as well as health and education. These investments, supported by partners including the United States, have helped Ethiopia strengthen its resilience against crises. For example, the Production Safety Net Program helped to significantly reduce hunger and develop many large-scale water conservation and agricultural projects.
Because of these investments, Ethiopia has weathered past severe droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, Ethiopia was not severely affected when neighboring Somalia suffered famine in 2011. In this current drought, the country might still be able to escape the kind of devastation it experienced in the 1980s when hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Nevertheless, Ethiopia needs our help.
According to USAID, over one-third of Ethiopia’s people live in poverty. Four out of every ten children under five are stunted. Through our taxpayer-funded Feed the Future program, we reach 16.8 million Ethiopians. This USAID-administered program supports agriculture, food security, and nutrition projects. In just three years, Feed the Future has helped reduce stunting among children by 9 percent.
However, the current drought could jeopardize all the progress that has been made in Ethiopia. In January, USAID provided $97 million in emergency assistance for Ethiopia. At the beginning of March, USAID administrator Gayle Smith dispatched a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to the drought-stricken country.
The team will provide technical assistance to the Ethiopian government. In addition, DART will provide emergency food assistance, safe drinking water, and better nutrition. It will also help ensure Ethiopians can grow life-saving crops to feed themselves in the coming months. The shift from emergency assistance to self-sufficiency is important in order to meet the immediate needs of Ethiopians, as well as their long-term self-reliance.
We, at Bread for the World, have supported USAID’s proactive approach in the past, and we continue to do so now in light of Ethiopia’s drought. Investments made now will save lives and money later. The Ethiopian government estimates that $1.4 billion is needed. However, less than half of that has been raised. Our government, our churches, our charities in the United States must do more to meet this need.
We know the damage malnutrition and hunger can do, especially among pregnant women and children below age 2. The physical and cognitive damage caused by malnutrition in the critical 1,000 days of an infant is irreversible. The consequences, including stunting, are lifelong.
We, at Bread for the World, urge our federal government and other partners to ensure that agricultural development aid is combined with social protection programs. These investments will help reach vulnerable women and children in the poorest countries.
Ethiopia has made great strides in reducing hunger but the current drought puts this progress at risk. It is better to proactively deal with crises before conditions deteriorate further. By providing humanitarian and development assistance now, we will help the people of Ethiopia recover much more quickly and save more lives.
This article was previously published March 8, 2016 on HuffPost Impact. Republished with permission.