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Joël Voordewind in Ethiopië - fotocredit Yalew Arega (ZOA)

A cocktail of misery in Eastern Ethiopia

There is no rain, no grain and no fuel. Eastern Ethiopia has been hit hard by climate change, high fuel prices and the crisis in Ukraine. This combination of problems is fueling food shortage. What can ZOA do in this rapidly deteriorating situation?

ZOA's special ambassador visits Eastern Ethiopia

No rain, no grain, no fuel

The people in rural Ethiopia have been hit hard in recent months. Farmland is drying up, grain is stuck in Ukraine and fuel for pumping and transporting drinking water has become unaffordable. “And yet there is hope,” says Joël Voordewind, ZOA's special ambassador, after a recent visit to the country.

No reserves

“I spoke to a farmer who showed me his last cow. The cow had just died.” Joël Voordewind talks about people he recently met in Oromia and Somali, in eastern Ethiopia. “This farmer depended on his ten cows, each worth 300 euros. They died one after another because of the extreme drought. In three weeks, he lost all his fortune. He was distraught.”

The most vulnerable people in Ethiopia - and all of East Africa - will be hit hardest by climate change, the crisis in Ukraine and high food and fuel prices. “They have no reserves. If these people have to deal with a setback, they immediately teeter on the brink of starvation.”

'I am his mother now'

At a rural clinic that Joël visited, ten children were being treated for malnutrition. One of the ladies in the clinic looked too old to be the mother of one of the children. He informed about her situation: “I am the mother of this little boy now,” she replied. “My daughter died during childbirth six weeks ago due to malnutrition and exhaustion. Now I am responsible for my grandson.”

This child, who was born in a malnourished state, was lucky that his grandmother was able to walk fifteen kilometers to the clinic for food supplements, says Joël. “Most children die at home. Mothers cannot travel with a malnourished child if they have to take care of other children at home. Generally, the men are not around. They moved to the city to earn money because crops fail and livestock dies from the drought.”

No food distributions

In a refugee camp in Babile, Joël also encountered mainly women and children. “I spoke to a number of mothers who said that they had not been given any food for four months. UNHCR is no longer able to keep the food distributions going because of the high food prices and the lack of grain.”

The lack of grain is a direct result of Russian naval blockades, which make it virtually impossible to ship grain from Ukraine to Africa. The crisis in Ukraine has a direct and enormous impact on the lives of the most vulnerable in East Africa. In recent times, food prices in Ethiopia have risen by thirty percent. Added to this are the high fuel prices, because fuel is needed to transport drinking water to refugee camps. And also for running generators to pump water from the ground.

High fuel prices

“I was standing at a water source on which 50,000 people depend for their drinking water,” says Joël. “The generator was shut down for three days because the fuel for it was no longer affordable. With the ever-rising prices, situations like this will only occur more and more.” A simple solution seems to be available: using solar panels instead of generators to pump up the water. Plenty of hours of sunshine in Ethiopia. “But that is expensive,” Joël explains. “In this case, about 75,000 euros. And investors for such a project in Ethiopia are hard to find. Most of the funds are currently going to Ukraine.''


And yet, still there is hope, says Joël. In the recently published report 'Climate change: from scarcity to conflict', Joël Voordewind and ZOA colleague Desirée van Kooten describe three methods aimed at making people climate resilient. With techniques that allow farmers to adapt to the changing climate, good water management, and by creating 'green jobs' in the energy transition.

With the use of drought-resistant seeds and drip irrigation, for example, it is possible to continue working on land. And by using the water that is available efficiently and distributing it fairly, conflicts about it can be avoided. By motivating people to combine livestock and arable farming, they also spread their opportunities. They are more likely to survive if they have a piece of land to work in addition to their cows. “Mechanization can also help,” says Joël. “Together, small farmers can buy a tractor, for example, so that they are not dependent on an ox for the plow."

For many people in Eastern Ethiopia, their future will depend on their ability to adjust to climate change. ZOA combines emergency relief and more durable solutions. In this way, we aim to make people more climate resilient.