The food situation in Ethiopia is also of great concern
Many people find it hard to imagine that people are still dying from hunger despite all the resources at our disposal. I joined UNDP's office in Addis Ababa after working in Geneva, where people usually do not have to worry about whether or not they will have something to eat that day. In contrast, when you live in Ethiopia, the challenges linked to food security stare you in the face, and it's impossible to ignore the crisis situation that the country is currently grappling with.
However, one must be careful when using the term famine - a word with a distinct definition. At this very moment, areas of South Sudan are officially in a state of famine. Somalia and Nigeria are the two countries in Africa where the risk of famine is considered imminent. Beyond the continent, Yemen is also on the brink of famine.
Though they are not among the countries facing the imminent threat of famine, many other countries are severely affected by food insecurity. The list includes Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
No one can deny the effect of climate change as one of the factors that have led to the current food crisis. The severe drought that is raging in this part of the world is wreaking havoc. Nevertheless, other factors must equally be taken into account. The UN Secretary-General recently stated that the combination of conflict, drought and disease has resulted in a nightmare situation.
The conflict in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and created more than 3 million refugees. The economy has collapsed, so has agricultural production, and food products have recorded a significant price increases. In Somalia, the economy is also in a worrying state, and Al-Shabab militants are severely hindering humanitarian initiatives by blocking aid deliveries or threatening humanitarian personnel.
In Ethiopia, whilst the country was still trying to recover from the 2015-2016 drought, low levels of rainfall led to yet another crisis situation. In a country with one of the highest levels of cattle ownership on the continent, the loss of herds to thirst severely affects families who depend on livestock as a food source, a livelihood or both. Since 2003, Ethiopia has already had to deal with five very serious droughts affecting millions of people. According to the World Food Programme, almost 5.6 million people are currently in urgent need of food aid.
The arrival of refugees from neighbouring countries is yet another pressure being placed on the country.
Few people are aware that Ethiopia is the African country that hosts the most refugees: 730 000 have been recorded, primarily from Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and Kenya. The factors forcing neighbouring populations to flee their country and come to Ethiopia are wide-ranging – the food crisis is one of them. Ethiopia plays a major role in terms of regional stability, and everyone monitored closely the recent waves of protests that shook the country, causing the government to declare a state of emergency and then to prolong it. In spite of all this, the government seems to have maintained its open door policy.
No one should die of hunger in 2017. This type of crisis should have been anticipated early enough to be avoided. How? By working in an efficient manner with all stakeholders concerned to identify the causes of the problem. Humanitarian organizations have made a considerable effort - especially through food distribution, but not exclusively so. Many interesting solutions are coming to the fore, solutions that are innovative and geared towards positive impact in the long term.