ADDIS ABABA – Forecasters are warning that Ethiopia could face more rainfall deficits, deepening a drought that has left nearly eight million of the country’s people in need of aid.
Dr. Chris Funk is a climate scientist at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) whose research focuses on African and Asian countries. He told VOA’s Horn of Africa Service that there is a 50 percent chance another El Nino weather event could form in the Pacific Ocean this year.
“If it’s a moderate or strong El Nino, that would definitely tilt towards odd, below normal rain for northern Ethiopia,” he said. “That is what happened unfortunately in 2015, when we had a strong El Nino that reduced rains in northern and central Ethiopia and we are concerned about that possibility.”
Ethiopia tends to receive its heaviest rain between mid-June and mid-September, especially in the north.
The moderate rainy season that runs from February to May was disappointing, said Dula Shanko, deputy director for the Ethiopian meteorological department.
“March rain was very poor for areas that get rain [in] this time,” he said. “In April and May it shows little progress but not enough.”
He added that rain was sparse in the southern regions of Somali and Oromia.
Out of 7.78 million Ethiopians in need of food assistance, 3.6 million are in Oromia.
Lower than normal rains in 2015 and 2016 contributed to the ongoing food crisis by killing livestock and reducing farm output. The drought has forced farmers and pastoralists to search for water, pushing students to drop out of school in some areas.
The impact has been especially harsh in Oromia, where massive protests against the government took place two years ago and officials have maintained a state of emergency. In this region, Borana, Guji, West Guji East, West Harerge, North Shewa, East Shewa, Arsi and Bale provinces are highly affected, according to a government report.
Ethiopian officials say they are working to counter the drought by providing food for both animals and people.
“The combined effort from local, federal government and citizens averted the country from falling to famine before it happens [and] saved countless lives by allocating millions of dollars for this purpose,” said Debebe Zewude, a public officer for the National Disaster and Risk Management Commission (NDRMC).
But government intervention only goes so far when it doesn’t rain.
“Carcasses of cows, goats litter over the roads throughout the districts,” said Dida Guyo of Nagelle Borana, a city in Oromia. “I would say thousands of animals are dead due to drought from this area.”
The situation is grave, said Borbor Bule, a resident of Dubluk, a town in the south of the country.
“This is our only source of income,” he added. “We have lost our proud breeds. I have lost more than 10 animals. More than 50 animals are dead in my village alone.”
“I have never seen anything like this in my life,” he said. “… God forbid, we are fearing for human life.”