A seemingly never-ending line of activity crosses the wall of the Gum Selassa dam to the village of Adi Gudem. It is Saturday and women, men and children are ferrying goods, mainly in the form of livestock, to market. Those that have made the longer journey from the east, climbing up from much drier rift valley of the Afar region, are easily spotted with camels in tow. Photo credit: Andrew Dansie/REACH
Ethiopia has halved extreme poverty in the last 20 years and is the fastest growing economy of any African country. It has grown tremendously since the catastrophic droughts in decades past that left hundreds of thousands dead. While those events inevitably color the lens through which we view the current 2015 drought, its important to recognize the gains Ethiopians have made, and are continuing to make with the help of the government and international aid.
One of those improvements is WFP and Oxfam America’s R4 Rural Resilience Initiative. R4 has been active in Ethiopia since 2011 and has been effectively building the absorptive capacity of Ethiopians by allowing farmers to reduce their risk to climate shocks and stresses through buying index-based insurance. R4 builds on a successful 2009 pilot called HARITA (Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation) that was developed by Oxfam America, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and a number of other partners.
R4 works through mutually agreed upon thresholds of rainfall below or above which farmers who bought the insurance receive payouts. In fact, this year the R4 initiative is expecting considerable payouts in many Ethiopian villages. According to Lorenzo Bosi of the WFP, initial analysis shows that 10 out of 12 districts have already been triggered, and 50 out of 87 villages expect to receive insurance payouts. These results are promising, and can provide a contribution to the resilience of farmers who lost crops due to drought this year. Additional comparisons with field level information on yields are expected to give a better understanding of the situation.
Early Warning System and Safety Nets
The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) has been operating in Ethiopia since 2005 and is the largest welfare-for-work program in Africa. PSNP provides people with cash and food transfers in exchange for work five days a month building canals, terraces for crops and digging waterholes for animals. It also provides unconditional transfers to vulnerable people. This social protection program has been combined with LEAP (Livelihoods Early Assessment and Protection), the national food security early warning tool that uses agro-meteorology data to provide a snapshot of the situation on the ground and supports the decision-making of the Government of Ethiopia to trigger food assistance through PSNP. The national program has been providing support to the most food-insecure households during this drought and hoping to reduce the number of people who go hungry.
The program has its share challenges, especially in the pastoral lowland regions (Afar, Somali, and some parts of Oromia) where it has been difficult to register, target and reach beneficiaries. In the highlands the situation is different. Channels for transferring food and money are well established through PSNP, making it easier and more efficient to distribute aid during shocks and stresses.
Market Approaches to Resilience Project
The BRACED Farm Africa project called Market Approaches to Resilience (MAR) in the Afar region is just beginning and aims to build resilience of economic, ecological and social systems rather than focusing on individual households.
Over the course of three years the project is expected to support microfinance institutions to incorporate climate risk into their risk management portfolios and help them develop innovative credit products, support participatory rangeland and natural resource management, and strengthen climate information through establishing and improving weather stations among other activities aimed at building resilience to climate shocks like this very drought.
They are currently assessing options for working with the private sector to mitigate the impacts of this drought, through measures such as improving access to affordable local sugarcane byproducts as an alternative animal feed where pasture has been severely affected.
For the majority of drought-affected pastoralist households, financial services, such as accessing credits and loans to safeguard their assets, is out of reach. Nor do they have the income to afford animal feed from the market, particularly in times of drought when livestock marketability is declined, terms of trade (animal/grain) of pastoralist households are affected and their purchasing power has been significantly reduced.
The project will therefore explore the development of a payment model to enable affected households to acquire the animal feed provided by local traders and cooperatives, through the local market system.
A look to the future
The humanitarian community and Ethiopian government have responded to this drought by providing food aid including grains, protein-rich foods, and oil. Poor households in the southern Afar, and northern Somali region are already experiencing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) conditions for acute food insecurity, and would be worse without humanitarian food assistance, according to FewsNet.
The coming months comprise the dry season for much of north eastern Ethiopia when it will be key to pay attention to how communities are continuing to cope with the impacts of the late and missed rains.
However, other parts of Ethiopia, including southern, and eastern Ethiopia, have a high likelihood of wetter than normal conditions until the end of the year. Many parts of the Somali region that have been spared from the drought conditions, have instead seen flooding, especially along the border to Somalia, linked to the ongoing El Niño. This shows the potential for back-to-back climate extremes, which are exactly the kinds of events BRACED projects are working to build resilience to. In the next few months we will continue to monitor the situation in Ethiopia and provide updates on the extreme events, and the actions that are working to create resilience across the countries BRACED is working in.
The findings and conclusions detailed in this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the IFRC or its National Societies. The blog and any links it may contain are offered to stimulate discussion and thinking on the humanitarian impacts of climate change and variability.