While it is a good effort, to the extent that someone has travelled 7,000k and undertaken 18 days journey. And yet, the horror has not come out as promised by Dawit, who has described the drought as: “the worst drought that the country has ever experienced in its history.”
Nor has the situation in each of the three regions has been discussed in a revealing manner. TEO is not sure that we have seen in this piece what exactly is happening in each of the regions.
For instance, under the title “Shocking revelations”, The Reporter in the same issue has discussed existence of ‘discriminatory acts by local officials’, which the writer has avoided mentioning, or excised out from this piece.
TEO would like to thank the writer, but at the same time it recognizes the wall before him with the chief of Communications Office having already shown his capability for subversion, censorship and misrepresentation. Also noticeable in the last few days has been his efforts to stuff the media with contradictory statements and cock and bull stories Ethiopians have so much detested.
TEO feels the pain of a forcibly dulled pain. The TPLF aim is to block sharper and investigative pens from shining the light on their darkness the TPLF people have cast. Fortunately, they can no longer stop Ethiopians, as they did during the past quarter century of slavery and state violence and duplicity.
As far as the drought is concerned many people that have worked in this area for long and done a great deal of good to the victims have shown in some form life would continue, while those that have been spared its harshness would give testimony how they have been treated.
With that in mind, TEO would sincerely say to Dawit Taye: “Courage mon ami, le diable est mort!” (“Take courage, my friend, the devil is dead”, as would say Charles Reade‘s 1853 poem!
Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
By Dawit Taye, The Reporter
Recently, a group of journalists were commissioned by the Government Communications Affairs Office to visit drought affected areas in selected four regions of the country: Oromia, SNNPR, Amhara and Tigray. The group covered 7,000kms and a number of woredas to see the impact of what was proclaimed to be the worst drought in the recent history of the nation. The trip took 18 days and Dawit Taye, one of the journalists in the group, came up with this report.
The 1984 the Great Ethiopian famine is one of the worst horror stories of the 20th century. It is a history of human suffering and a catastrophe of epic proportions. The global attention to the famine was equally memorable; the world also saw massive global solidarity movement in the form of Live Aid music concert.
Harbessa Ahmed, a village elder at Raya-Alemata woreda of The Tigray Regional State, was only a youngster back then. But, he says, he remembers the suffering very vividly. “The drought left my father and the whole family almost without anything,” Harbessa recalls the horrendous experience.
Harbessa’s family finally decided to leave their birthplace and move to the south Illibabur southwestern part of the country. The desperate action was to see Harbessa and his birthplace detach from one another for the coming decade. “It was ten years later that I finally went back to my home and reclaimed the land that belonged to my father,” he explains. Nature and the piece of land were both good to Harbessa and the yield was beyond expectation. Well that was until last year, last year, he once again saw the repeat of the drought that he witnessed as child.
The worst of its kind
Nevertheless, what is coming out of all official channels is that this might well be the worst drought that the country has ever experienced in its history. To start with, the problem extended in all the four major regions in country including woredas in the Afar and Somali regional states. Thus far, the number of affected is found out to be 10.2 million by the government accounts.
In his recent interview with The Reporter, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that the government has diverted its health and agricultural extension system to canvas the drought areas and assess the overall impact of the catastrophe to each and individual households. That assessment has recently updated the figure from 8.2 million to 10.2 million people; this is in fact a figure that is corroborated by major development partners but still it is challenged by other independent sources on basis that it might climb up to 15 million and more.
According to official sources, the number of people who require immediate food assistance stands in a stark contrast to those in need of assistance back in 1984: not more than 5 million. In fact, most recent data released from the national drought steering committee which is headed by the Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, out of the total number of rural woredes in the country which is 670, the 189 have been severely hit by the recent drought. That is also augmented by the additional 90 wordeas which are mildly affected by the problem.
In general, a total of 1.9 million metric tons food would be required to cover the food shortage, according to the national steering committee’s report.
Oromia is where the largest number of drought affected people is expected to be. According to Fikadu Tesema, communications head for Oromia Regional State, the intensification of the drought affected areas is highly worrying. He says that the number of the drought affected people has escalated over the past few months. “The number was estimated at 1.8 million in September which quickly climbed to 2.9 million in a span two three months and later it is expected to rise to 3.7 million at the end of January,” he said.
As far as Fikadu is concerned, this number is the largest the region has ever seen in its history.
The other largely affected region is the Amhara Region, which is expected to feed a total 2.2 million people as a result of the drought and is associated severe food shortage. “The proportion of drought which is been observed in recent times is not something that the region has experienced in its recent history,” Gedu Andargachew, president of the Amhara Regional State, said.
The 1984 famine was highly pronounced in the Amhara and Tigray regional states; and currently there are also close to one million people who need food aid in Tigray, according to Jemil Mohammed, Agricultural Bureau head at Tigray Regional State.
The Southern Regional State, a region which is not usually hit by drought condition, is one of the victims of El Niño this year. Dessie Dalke, president of the Southern region, as well pronounced that the drought levels are something that has never been seen before.
A village elder around Belesa Zone in the Amhara Regional State says that he has never seen such a bad day in his long life. “I have to admit the conditions that I am observing these days are somewhat similar to those during the 1960s Ethiopia,” he said explaining how dire conditions are in his locality.
The drought conditions have now reigned for two consecutive harvest seasons: Meher and Belg where 80 and 20 percent of the total countries production is harvested, respectively.
However, the two harvest seasons are proving to be highly costly for the farmers living in drought affected areas.
Another factor that is indicative of the severity of the drought conditions is the dire shortage of pasture and drinking water. According to the information that is obtained from the ground, the dire shortage of drinking water is affecting both people and livestock. Anecdotal evidence from Amhara region Showa Robit woreda attests to this fact.
In the woreda, the drought has resulted in the drying up of most of the water sources in the village. Hence, the people in the area has established a neighborhood watch program to conserve the only remaining water body (a small pond) to prolong its services. Meta Mekonnen, 70, was on guarding duty around the pond, the last remaining water body serving the locality, when The Reporter visited the area two weeks ago. “This is our last chance and we are trying to manage it properly,” he said.
Most of the drought affected areas in Amhara, Oromia and Tigray regional states report severe shortage in drinking water. The federal and regional governments have assigned tankers to transport water to the affected areas. But, the supply has been next to nothing compared to the need, according to officials and the affected population alike. Especially in Raya-Alamata and Belesa woredas of Tigray and Amhara regions the shortage of water is severely hurting the locals.
According to the locals, the private sector has skidded in to fill this gap by transporting water in these areas and supplying a liter of water for one birr. In Oromia region the officials has noted that a lot remains to be done with regard to supplying water since only 54 tankers are currently serving the needy.
Water shortage looks to be particularly hard on livestock population across the drought affected regions. Added to the depletion of green pastures for animal grazing, the livestock population across the drought affected areas numbered in millions is particularly in critical conditions. According to livestock professionals assessment of the problem, currently the risk facing the livestock population is at the third stage; and one it enters the fourth stage things could get very complicated.
There are two different strategies that the authorities are proposing to save the livestock population. One is a massive move to reduce the livestock population by bringing them out to the market. While on the other front, moving the animals to a relatively safer environment is also sought as a possible solution. The officials also argue that some of the farmers do have 200 and 300 cattle at their disposal and this could be quite difficult to feed and rare at such harsh environment.
For instance, in the Amhara regional state, some 230,000 cattle population were brought to the market; but farmers complain that the price is plummeting fast.
Although authorities are contending that the price of cattle is not something to worry about, farmers on the other hand are disturbed since they are running down their vital household asset at a rock bottom price. For instance, during normal times the price of an ox could go as high 10,000 and 15,000 birr, but now the price has gone down to 2000 birr in most rural markets.
Commentators on the other hand are not surprised since it is the basic rule of economic that the price of a commodity would go down as the supply starts to rise.
There is another side to this story, as households get rid of their cattle to purchase food items for their families, the price of food items looks to be slowly increasing in rural markets. Here as well, the officials and the affected people give different accounts of the condition.
According to Fikirte Arega, resident of Key Gara kebele of the Raya-Kobo woreda in the Amhara Regional State, the price of both teff and sorghum has risen from 15 to 23 birr per jug and from 6 to 11 birr per jug, respectively.
On the other hand, in the Amhara some 200,000 cattle are earmarked to move to places with greener pastures.
At the end of last week, the government has announced that total of 1.9 million metric tons of food would be required to even begin to satisfy the food need. This coupled with other expenses related to delivering the assistance would add up to 1.4 billion dollars in needed resources, according to the government’s own account. Thus far, the foreign community’s pledge of 163 million dollars in assistance has not been honored. In fact, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has recently pledged 88 million dollars in assistance to Ethiopia.
However, international organizations like FAO have extended their efforts to feed school children (916 schools) in the drought affected areas at a cost of 42 million birr. According to the Mitiku Kassa, disaster prevention and preparedness state minister at the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, so far, the government has made an investment of three billion birr towards the drought and the assistance activities. At the regional level as well, resource is being allocated. For instance, Oromia is reported to have earmarked 1.5 billion birr to this cause while regions like Amhara has allocated 200 million birr.
Nevertheless, the distribution of food aid is highly problematic according to The Reporter’s observation.
Primarily, food aid distribution is scant at best. According to conditions on the ground, the people who are currently receiving food aid are those who have been severely affected by food shortage. Those who have household resources and capacity to withstand for some time have received no food aid, so far.
Yet again, those receiving the food aid are not even receiving more than 15 kilos of wheat; and since September in most of the woredas only two rounds of distributions were made (a measurement in par with the international standards).
In connection, with food aid distribution the issue of nepotism and political connection is criticized to be a major shortcoming; and to that end regional officials have confirmed such incidents and punishment of aid officials implicated in such dealings.
When all said and done, the current drought that is taunting Ethiopia appears to be one of the worst in its history; but thus far, no actual death toll has been reported by any entity. Still, fear abounds since the condition are predicted to persist at least for the next year.
/The Reporter: The Horror of Drought