Famine returning to Ethiopia

Climate problems, again. The time to act is now before the November harvest which is expected to be very bad.

The underlying problem for Ethiopia is the erratic behaviour of the country’s climate, or rather its regional micro-climates. Moisture-bearing clouds scudding in from the Indian Ocean can pass over the parched eastern lowlands to dump generous amounts of rain on the fertile western highlands. The famine of 1984-85, revealed by BBC reporter Michael Buerk, was actually two separate famines, one in Tigray, in the north, the other in Somali, in the south-east.

Two main rains sustain the people of Ethiopia, the belg in spring and the kiremt, which usually start in July. Both are influenced by variations in sea-surface temperature. The El Niño phenomena in the eastern Pacific usually bring droughts to Ethiopia, and America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that the current El Niño will strengthen over the next six months. The belg has failed for two years running now, while the kiremt started three weeks late this summer and the amount of rainfall when they did come was below normal. Aid agencies fear that the season could end early, or, equally bad, produce delayed downpours just when farmers need dry weather for the harvest. Even if the kiremt ends on time in October, some crops may not reach maturity because of the late planting.

Ethiopia is overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture, and some 90 per cent of its crops are watered by nature rather than by man-made irrigation systems. During droughts, farmers and nomadic herders tend to sell off their assets to buy food, leaving them with nothing when the next growing season begins. It can take three to five years for pastoral tribes to rebuild their herds.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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