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Ethiopia Drought

The Somali region, located in the eastern part of Ethiopia, is one of the worst-affected regions by El Niño. The Somali region is among the poorest in Ethiopia, with poverty-stricken and disaster-prone. (Photo: Poon Wai-nang / Oxfam volunteer photographer)


Updated on 15 December 2015

The Situation

A devastating drought in Ethiopia has caused the worst food crisis there in 30 years, putting millions of people at risk of hunger and disease. Ethiopia has suffered erratic and failed rains for the past 18 months in some regions and the situation has been made even worse by ‘super El Niño’. Parts of the country are not expected to get any further rain until March 2016, many people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Almost 8 million people will receive help from the Ethiopian government-led safety-net programme, but funding is urgently needed to reach an additional 10.2 million people. The needs of people are rising rapidly, and they are in urgent need of food and clean, safe water; 435,000 children under five and 1.7 million children, pregnant and lactating women also require specialised clean water and nutritional support. People suffering from malnutrition, children in particular, are weaker and therefore at much greater risk of waterborne diseases and diseases linked to poor hygiene. In Ethiopia, diseases linked to poor hygiene – such as scabies – are already spreading.

More than 80 per cent of the population depends on agriculture, making them extremely vulnerable to drought and changes in weather patterns. Many crops have failed, water sources are drying up and worrying numbers of livestock are dying – more than 500,000 animals have already been lost. The crisis is widespread. The impact of the drought was first felt in some parts of the Afar and Somali Region and is now spreading to other parts of the country.

Oxfam’s Response

So far, we have reached about 200,000 people affected by the crisis, but we urgently need to reach more people and are in the process of scaling up our response. We plan to reach at least 770,000 people in the Afar, Somali and Oromia Region with clean water, sanitation and emergency food and livelihood support. We have been responding to the emergency situation in the most critical areas of Afar Zone 2, West Arsi in Oromia Region, and Siti Zone in the Somali Region:

  • Vaccinating livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats to reach around 13,450 people to improve their livelihoods so that they can survive the drought and go on to produce healthy herds in the future
  • Trucking water to 21,000 people
  • Rehabilitating two shallow wells for communities
  • Distributing cash grants to 7,572 people
  • Supporting the delivery of clean water to 40,000 people by providing 10 water tanks and tap stands through the government water trucking scheme
  • Trucking water and treatment to 17,520 people on a daily basis
  • Rehabilitating 10 boreholes to 50,000 people
  • Offering cash-for-work and cash grants, benefiting 23,700 people
  • Installing 28 latrines
  • Distributing slaughter destocking and meat to 2,400 people
  • Distributing animal feed to 800 farmers, supporting another 1,500 with animal health services
  • Installing a well, supplying clean water to 1,600 people


How is El Niño affecting vulnerable communities?


With the strongest El Niño ever recorded, a super El Niño weather system is causing extreme weather in many parts of the world, including drought and flooding. The poorest and most vulnerable people are being hit hardest; this has left millions to face water shortages, hunger and disease in the past few months. Oxfam estimates it could leave tens of millions of people to face hunger, water shortages and disease in 2016 while the humanitarian system is already struggling to cope with the fallout from conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere.

Already millions of people are facing food shortages in Ethiopia because of drought. Concerns have been raised over food shortages in Zimbabwe and Malawi in southern Africa; Papua New Guinea in the Pacific region; and Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti in Latin America and the Caribbean. El Niño has also put millions of people at risk from flooding. Flooding has already devastated Paraguay and further floods are expected in South America in February/March 2016.

Many of the countries feeling the effects have developing economies where large proportions of the population rely on subsistence farming, making them very vulnerable to these kinds of extreme weather events. Urgent humanitarian response is required in some countries – such as Ethiopia – including the delivery of food aid, or financial support through cash or vouchers, ensuring people have access to clean water and sanitation, and treating people who are suffering from malnutrition.

Report: El Niño Key Messages: Urgent Action Now can Prevent Major Suffering and Loss