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The situation in the Somali Region, one of the hardest drought hit areas in Ethiopia, is looking bleak, according to heads of the United Nations food agencies who visited the region this week.
The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) visited Ethiopia, meeting with government and UN agency officials, agreeing to work closely to address food insecurities on the continent.
“So far we have been able to avoid a famine scale crisis but it is very important to understand the situation there is very critical and we need more funding,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).
Consistent droughts have left at least 8.5 million people in the country in need of food assistance. In the Somali region, rains have failed for the third consecutive year and the death of many livestock has caused a breakdown in pastoral livelihoods, contributing to soaring hunger levels and alarming increases in malnutrition rates. As the government continues to try and stabilize the situation, there is an urgent need for further assistance from donors to prevent further deterioration.
“It is essential to invest in preparedness and provide farmers and rural communities with knowledge and tools to safeguard themselves and their livelihoods. We’ve witnessed here that saving livelihoods means saving lives – it is people’s best defense against drought,” said Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO, the organization that is providing emergency livelihood support for drought-affected livestock owners and farmers, as well as support to stabilize communities’ long-term resilience.
“A drought does not need to become an emergency. We know what works. In the Somali region, where there is investment in irrigation systems, water points, rural financial institutions, health and veterinary services and other long-term development projects, the communities can better sustain themselves and their livestock through this devastating drought. This is what we need to build on,” said Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
The impact of long-term development projects undertaken by the three food agencies were evident in the Tigray region, where agency heads saw irrigation schemes, fruit nurseries and health centres that are boosting productivity, increasing incomes and improving nutrition so that rural people can better withstand external shocks like droughts.
The heads of the agencies also met with United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Executive Secretary Vera Songwe.
The meeting was an acknowledgment that the three United Nations Rome-based agencies offer a vast range of knowledge, financial and technical expertise on issues related to food security, agriculture and nutrition while the ECA on the other hand also has a comparative advantage of a broad knowledge base in discharging its mandate of promoting the economic and social development of its member States, fostering intra-regional integration and international cooperation for Africa’s development, one representative said.
Songwe assured that the ECA was ready to deepen its collaboration with the three organizations, adding that the fact that the leaders of the Rome-based UN agencies were in Ethiopia at the same time was a strong indication of how important the issue of food security on the continent was to them.
“Under one roof we have combined knowledge on climate change, food security, and conflict. These issues are relevant for the challenges we face such as migration and must be tackled in a comprehensive way,” she said.
“We have been collaborating already with the three agencies and there’s a lot that can be done if we pull our resources together.”
Songwe also said the ECA was ready to contribute to the partnership on the policy side and training in particular as the organizations work together in their quest to achieve zero hunger on the continent. She also emphasized the need for data and statistics to help guide agriculture and land policy, adding this was crucial for the gender agenda and to crowd in private investment.
While some areas in Ethiopia continue to struggle due to the drought, other parts have been struggling with heavy rains and floods. The Ethiopian Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency has put out a warning that due to the heavy rains, the Koka Reservoir located in the south-central Ethiopia has been overflowing and leading to tributary rivers to over flow.
The warning states that those that are living below the reservoir near the tributaries need to prepare for a flood and evacuate from areas that are near the reservoir or the tributaries.