Ethiopia is facing its worst drought in decades, with around 10 million people in need of food and humanitarian assistance after 18 months of minimal rainfall. The United Nations requested $50 million in emergency funding on Friday to tackle the crisis.
This year's El Niño weather system has hit hard in East Africa, causing the severe drought in Ethiopia and flooding in Somalia. The current drought comes more than two decades after the famine that devastated Ethiopia and Eastern Africa in the mid-1980s.
Ethiopia is the fastest-growing economy in sub-Saharan Africa, and the International Monetary Fund has ranked it one of the top five fastest-growing economies in the world. Home to the African Union headquarters and to Ethiopian Airlines, the country still relies heavily on agriculture with 80 percent of jobs falling in the farming sector. But parts of the country have seen a 90 percent drop in crop production as a result of the dry weather, while food production in eastern Ethiopia has failed entirely.
"The outlook for 2016 is very grim"
Beyond the impact on agriculture, general food stores and livestock have been significantly hurt by the drought, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). From now until March, when the rainy season begins, the organization said the situation is expected to continue deteriorating.
"The outlook for 2016 is very grim," said Amadou Allahoury, FAO's representative for Ethiopia. "Food overall will become harder to access if we continue to see prices rise, food stocks deplete and livestock become weaker, less productive, and perish."
FAO's emergency program in Ethiopia will carry out animal vaccinations and seed distribution, while giving cash to farmers and providing 100,000 sheep and goats to those in need. The agency will also provide savings-and-loan assistance and help with irrigation projects.
El Niño, which has diverse, wide-reaching global effects and typically occurs every 3-7 years, is caused by slowed trade winds that create warmer waters in the equatorial region of the eastern Pacific Ocean. In general, the shift in water temperatures and atmospheric patterns brings more precipitation to countries in North and South America, while causing drought in East Africa, as well as countries such as Australia and Indonesia. Ethiopia will also likely be hit by severe flooding in some areas over the coming months, also due to El Niño thanks to the weather pattern's effect on temperatures in the Indian Ocean.
In addition to the UN funding, the Ethiopian government has also boosted response efforts in recent months. The country has designated $200 million from its budget to help help tackle the crisis.
Reuters contributed to this report.