Ethiopia’s harsh climate

Drought has become increasing common in Shinile in Ethiopia. Nicholson/Caritas

By Patrick Nicholson, Dire Dawa in Ethiopia

“There used to be droughts every ten years,” said Suliman Aden, a herder in Ethiopia’s Eastern Shinile zone. “Now they’re every year or every two years.”

He lost 11 of his 15 cattle in a drought earlier this year. He works with a veterinary clinic supported by the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat, a diocescan member of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat (the national Caritas in Ethiopia). The clinic tries to spot diseased animals and treat them.

“We don’t have any solutions for drought though,” he said. “Cattle need water and grass, and if there are neither, they will die.”

Learning to cope with the region’s harsh climate is a way of life for the nomadic Somali communities who live here.  Only 500 to 700 mm of rain fall annually and extreme heat topping 40 C can kill man and beast.  They have developed strategies to survive the hostile climate. But those strategies are failing to deal with the increasing frequency of drought.

“The resilence of the community is very poor,” said Yusuf Ahmed, a local teacher in Harrawa, a small town of 100 percent food aid, mud huts and poverty that clings to the side of the Dire Dawa-Dijibouti rail line. “People have been worn down by drought. They cannot cope any longer.”

Drought is nothing new to Ethiopia. But according to the UNDP Climate Change Profile of Ethiopia, the mean average temperature has increased 1.3 C between 1960 and 2006.

Recent analysis of rainfall and food security indicators suggest that Southern and Eastern Ethiopia have been experiencing recent reductions in rainfall since 1996. This means there will be increasing requirements for food aid above the 7.5 million already who depend on the Government’s Safety-Net programme (plus an additional 4.9 million who required food assistance last year).

And things will only get worse. The mean annual temperature is projected to rise by 1.1 to 3.1 C by 2060 (UNDP). So it is with some urgency that the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat is hosting a ‘Climate Justice Conference of the Ethiopian Catholic Church” in the capital Addis Ababa 2-4  June.

Staff with direct experience of the impact of climate change will be talking with other religious leaders, experts, international caritas members, and government representatives. They hope to look at mitigationa nad addaptation techiniques, and prepare themselves for a very hot century if inaction at the international level continues.

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Filed under Africa, Climate Change, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Food

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