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Worries of Famine After Drought in Ethiopia


Turkana people wait in a line to receive food from Oxfam in central Turkana district, Kenya in August 2011. The U.N. says tens of thousands of people died in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti from famine. Five years later, drought has returned.

Turkana people wait in a line to receive food from Oxfam in central Turkana district, Kenya in August 2011. The U.N. says tens of thousands of people died in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti from famine. Five years later, drought has returned.


Drought and famine killed more than 400,000 people in Ethiopia in the early 1980s. The country’s government is seeking aid to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

In a country where 85 percent of the people are farmers, millions are in need of aid.

Ethiopia needs $250-million in assistance so that 8 million people do not go hungry.

One million metric tons of wheat for the next four months will cost almost $300 million.

Getachew Redda is a government spokesman. He says the Ethiopian government will be able to manage the drought with the financial aid. But Ethiopia must help farmers by developing more wells and irrigation projects so they are not so dependent on rain.

Weather experts say the drought is caused by El Niño, an extreme weather pattern. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, El Niño results in warmer-than-normal water in the Pacific Ocean that affects climates to the East.

Historically, droughts should be expected every 10 to 12 years. But as climate changes, rain will be less reliable and less predictable.

Government officials say projects that create long-term solutions are more important than temporary wheat distribution.

Wagayehu Bekele is the director of the agricultural transformation agency in Ethiopia. He says farmers must adapt their schedules and work when the weather is good, instead of during traditional planting seasons.

“Traditional wisdom is not working anymore. If the rain starts early, they don’t start sowing or planting.”

Agriculture makes up about half of Ethiopia’s economy. The lack of rain is also affecting the health of livestock.

Technology plays an important role in making the country more modern and its agriculture industry more sustainable, says one environment advocate.

Araya Asfaw is the director of the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Center and Network. He says more investment is needed in weather tracking and prediction.

“We need to have more meteorological stations all over the place.”

The crisis is building. Right now 8 million people are in danger of going hungry. But if the aid does not arrive soon, the United Nations estimates that number could soon double.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Marthe van Der Wolf wrote this story for VOA News. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. ­­­­­­Kathleen Struck was the editor.

What do you think about the drought and famine in Ethiopia? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section or on our Facebook page.

[Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Ethiopia's population was nearly wiped out by famine in the early 1980s. Although more than 400,000 people died in the famine, the national census reported that the country's total population in 1984 was about 42,000,000.]

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Words in This Story

drought – n. a long time of little or no rain

famine – n. when many people have little to eat

irrigation – n. watering land so crops can grow

meteorological – adj. the science of weather

sustainable – adj. a practice that does not use up all resources

transformation – n. a complete change in appearance, form, etc.

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