Ethiopian Waters Advisory Council


EWAC Press Release

The Ethiopian Waters Advisory Council (EWAC), on March 23, 2024, organized a discussion forum on Drought, Famine, and Food Insecurity in Ethiopia with the motto “Drought would never lead to famine and loss of human and livestock life if policies and institutions are well informed by science and accountability system put in place.”

EWAC organized this discussion forum to:

  • broaden knowledge on historical trends and impacts of recent drought.
  • discuss possible science-based long-term strategies and
  • produce action-oriented solutions for managing drought and combating food insecurity in Ethiopia.

Experts, scientists, researchers from diverse backgrounds, and NGO representatives from Ethiopia, Kenya, and the US contributed to the discussions and identified, among others, the missing links between science, policy, and development programs designed for the vulnerable and drought-affected communities. 

Ethiopia has been grappling with severe drought, climatic variability, and famines that have drawn both local and global attention. At the workshop, three research studies were presented, followed by a panel discussion. 

Ethiopia’s history of recurrent droughts, associated famine, and food insecurity issues has been well documented since the 16th century. The records indicate that the frequency, severity, and duration of the drought are increasing, with 11 drought episodes experienced since 2011. 

The Government of Ethiopia’s most recent assessment of food assistance needs indicates that 15.8 million people will face hunger in 2024 and need emergency food assistance, including more than 4 million internally displaced people and 7.2 million with acute food insecurity.[1] This assessment does not include people affected by the ongoing wars and widespread conflicts in the Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray regions, which according to local estimates adds 5.5 million people in need of immediate food aid. Ethiopia’s Southern states, Borena, Afar, and Somalia regions have seen a loss of more than 3 million livestock from recent droughts. 

The discussion generated suggestions summarized below. 

1.    While drought is a natural phenomenon, the transformation of drought into famine is indicative of policy and institutional weakness. Drought is not an overnight catastrophe but a slow-onset and predictable natural disaster that offers time for early intervention. Experience from other countries has shown that with political will and determination, improved institutional capacity, and better scientific tools such as prediction, early warning systems and preparedness, it is possible to prevent drought from leading to famine.

2.    The forum highlighted the importance of leveraging the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)’s early warning systems and predictive capabilities to enhance drought preparedness across Eastern Africa, including Ethiopia. Emphasizing the need for Ethiopia to effectively use these resources to avert humanitarian crises and significant livestock losses, the forum calls for a shift towards a more responsive disaster preparedness and governance structure, coupled with robust accountability mechanisms at all government levels.

3.    The forum also emphasized the importance of pro-active implementation of drought monitoring, transparent, timely, and effective communications, preparedness, and mitigation actions; and avoiding a delayed and reactive response. Delayed action is as detrimental as inaction and stresses institutions and operations for drought management. Proactive action is a dignified, cheaper, and more sustainable practice to mitigating drought impacts. Financing early warning prediction, preparedness activities, and advocacy actions is by far a cheaper means of drought disaster prevention than relief and rehabilitation.

4.    The forum called on the Government of Ethiopia to create an enabling environment for community based and civic organization, media, and interested accredited groups to easily access the vulnerable and affected communities and provide up to date reports and information.

5.    The forum highlighted the importance of peace and stability to effectively manage drought and prevent famine.

6.    The forum called for the establishment of a standing committee composed of community leaders, media, NGOs, CBOs, and elected officials to coordinate efforts and ensure the delivery of adequate and timely assistance. This setup should also enhance the transparent and effective flow of information, including early warning data and disaster preparedness measures to government and aid agencies.

7.    While the current effort by the Government of Ethiopia to reform its national disaster prevention policy is encouraging, the forum highlighted the vital importance of strengthening implementation capacity at all levels and putting in place an effective system of accountability.

8.    The forum calls on the international community to provide adequate food aid and distribute it on a timely basis in a manner that is transparent and coordinated (with the standing committee). Further, the forum recommends developing crop and livestock insurance and subsidy mechanisms to manage drought.

9.    Finally, EWAC calls on the Government of Ethiopia to elevate drought risk to a national security risk level, do everything possible to ensure an unhindered flow of aid, ensure peace and security, implement a people-centered short-, medium-, and long-term drought recovery and development plan and render the brutal effects of drought a thing of the past.

EWAC understands the need for more in-depth discussions on the points highlighted by the discussion forum and plans to organize a larger conference on the topic in the coming months.


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