By Stephen O’Brien, António Guterres, Ertharin Cousin and Anthony Lake*
Those who remember Ethiopia in the 1980s may feel a disturbing sense of déjà vu. The country is once again facing devastating climatic conditions: rains have failed; millions of people need food aid; children are suffering from severe malnutrition. But this is not the Ethiopia of the 1980s. With the leadership of the government and the support of the international community, Ethiopians can survive this crisis without witnessing a repeat of the devastating famine that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives 30 years ago.
The facts are frightening enough. Two back-to-back seasons of poor or non-existent rainfall, exacerbated by the strongest El Niño phenomenon on record, have led to the worst drought in decades. At the beginning of this year, less than three million Ethiopians needed government support. Today, that figure stands at an estimated ten million, and forecasts indicate that it could double within months.
In a country that already hosts the largest refugee population in Africa, many are concerned that the looming crisis could lead people, particularly farmers, to move in search of food, water and pasture.
By early next year, projections indicate that 400,000 children could suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition, a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate treatment. Some children who suffer from SAM may have massive loss of body fat and muscle tissue and look almost elderly; others can look puffy and their hair may be thinning. Both sets of symptoms mean there is a high risk of death. Even when it is treated successfully, SAM can affect physical and mental development throughout a child’s entire life.
We know this is coming. We know how to prevent it. We simply have to act, now.