On August 19, the U.S. committed to providing 35 million dollars in aid to Ethiopia after their devastating drought and recent floods. The announcement came from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Ethiopia Mission Director, Leslie Reed, on World Humanitarian Day. Aid will go toward immediate humanitarian emergencies to help Ethiopia adapt to the threat of climate change and supporting the country’s developmental progress.

In 2015, Ethiopia was hit by the worst drought in decades. More than 10 million people were estimated to need humanitarian assistance, according to OXFAM. The severity of the drought was aggravated by El Niño, which periodically warms the Pacific region and affects climate patterns all over the world. The World Meteorological Organization reported that the current El Niño is one of the strongest recorded.

The drought has impacted 85 percent of Ethiopia’s population that engages in agricultural production. The dry spell destroyed farming livelihoods and escalated food prices, food insecurity and malnutrition.

Due to the effects of La Niña, flash flooding has caused further damage in Ethiopia. According to Ethiopia Drought Response Situation Report No. 3., there have been an increased number of cases of waterborne diseases due to poor sanitation and hygiene. The number of people displaced has reached 631,508, according to the report. While a portion of this number is due to conflict, 47 percent were displaced from March to June solely due to the floods.

On August 12, the Ethiopian government asked for $612 million for immediate food aid through December of 2016. Since October 2014, the U.S. has contributed 774 million dollars in aid to Ethiopia. The funds have provided clean drinking water, food for nutrition, malnutrition treatment and health services.

USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was sent to Ethiopia in March 2016 and has been working with the Ethiopian government to provide technical assistance, administer humanitarian assessments and bring aid to Ethiopia. DART provided four million dollars worth of drought resilient seeds for 226,000 families to grow food.

Other international humanitarian organizations are also contributing to relief efforts. Concern Worldwide and Goal Global worked to stabilize Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia severely impacted by the drought. The aid groups provided supplementary food to women and children experiencing malnutrition.

In order to withstand this ongoing emergency, Ethiopia will need support from the international community. Although El Niña rainfall is predicted to last through until December, the country will need support in adapting to the harsh effects of climate change in the future.

Erica Rawles

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Zimbabwe

Thousands of children are facing starvation and hunger in Zimbabwe due to the worst drought in two decades. According to the World Food Programme, nearly four million Zimbabweans are struggling to meet their basic food needs.

Zimbabwe is considered a food-deficit country, ranked 156 out of 187 on the Global Hunger Index. Although food insecurity affects people of all ages, it is even more detrimental to children.

Studies show that proper nutrition is critical to children’s physical and emotional development. Children struggling with hunger are more likely to repeat a grade in primary school, experience impairments in language and motor skills, or have social and behavioral problems.

In Zimbabwe, only 17.3% of children between the ages of two and six receive the recommended minimum diet for adequate nutrition. A child suffering from malnutrition is more likely to contract diseases, such as HIV, or suffer from stunting. Currently, one in every three Zimbabwean children suffers from chronic malnutrition or stunting. Stunting alone contributes to more than 12,000 deaths per year.

Hunger in Zimbabwe has become a major issue, particularly for low-income families and their children. Struggling families are often pressured to accept a dowry for their young daughters. This provides food for the rest of the family, as well as a potentially more food-secure situation for their daughter.

Approximately one out of every three girls in Zimbabwe are married before their 18th birthday. Girls living in the poorest 20% of households were more than four times as likely to marry before the age of 18 than those living in the wealthiest 20% of households.

Both poverty and hunger in Zimbabwe have resulted in an unsafe environment for children.

In order to combat hunger in Zimbabwe, the World Food Programme has implemented the Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO). The three primary focus areas of the operation are disaster response, food assistance and nutrition.

The disaster response and risk reduction program are designed to support food-insecure households affected by severe drought during the growing season.

Food Assistance for Assets provides cash and in-kind transfers, along with activities that promote self-reliance. It empowers vulnerable communities to move away from a dependence on food assistance.

The health and nutrition promotion is responsible for the Moderately Acutely Malnourished treatment, which assists pregnant and nursing women and children under the age of five. A stunting prevention program was also established in the same district.

With the help of the World Food Programme and other international organizations, hunger in Zimbabwe is decreasing and children are able to live healthier and happier lives.

Kristyn Rohrer

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in SwazilandIn conjunction with its quickly growing population, Swaziland has experienced continuous economic difficulties, especially in its rural areas. Here are nine interesting facts about poverty in Swaziland.

9 Facts About Poverty in Swaziland

  1. Ten percent of the population is responsible for about half of the nation’s consumption, while 84 percent of those living in poverty in Swaziland reside in rural areas. These figures point to a disproportion in the flow of resources between urban and rural areas in Swaziland.
  2. According to the Rural Poverty Portal, roughly 47 percent of the population is less than 15 years old. The unemployment rate of Swaziland is expected to rise unless working opportunities are found for these children.
  3. Life expectancy has actually dropped from a peak of 59 years in 1990 to 49 years in 2014.
  4.  In 2013, Swaziland had the highest rate of HIV in the world, at 27 percent according to AVERT. During 2013, 11,000 people contracted HIV, and 4,500 people died as a result of HIV.
  5. The data shared by AVERT shows that 31 percent of women have HIV as opposed to only 20 percent of men. This difference is likely tied to gender inequality in Swaziland, as women are often not in control of their own reproductive and sexual health.
  6. Nevertheless, Swaziland has seen improvements in its HIV problem during the 2000s through increased rates of antiretroviral treatment and investments in HIV response. AVERT’s statistics demonstrate such improvement. In 2012, only three percent of children born to HIV-positive mothers were HIV positive, as opposed to 12 percent in the prior year.
  7. Drought has been a major factor in restricting growth and contributing to poverty in Swaziland. According to All Africa, a drought last year was partially responsible for a 31 percent decline in maize production in 2015 and left 300,000 people (one-quarter of the population) targeted for aid.
  8. Other impacts of drought are seen in education, where water is needed for plumbing. The lack of water also increases the potential for water contamination, with 197,157 students, teachers, and workers being put at risk of water-borne disease.
  9. Since 2000, the Kingdom of Swaziland has been implementing a plan to reduce poverty. Some goals include providing all rural households with access to water as well as giving women the same rights over their land that men have.

Foreign support in dealing with problems such as HIV and water shortage would certainly help improve the economic disparity found in Swaziland, in conjunction with the nation’s own efforts.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr

Lower Mekong InitiativeThe Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), established in July 2009, expanded its original focus to include a Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership in response to this year’s historic drought that devastated the Mekong region. With support from the U.S., the new partnership aims to promote economic development, environmental conservation, and climate resilience.

Through LMI, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S. collaborated to create sub-regional cooperation that fosters economic growth and aims to narrow the development gap between the Lower Mekong countries.

At this year’s annual meeting, LMI designed the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership, a training platform with two main goals: to help LMI countries identify training deficiencies in infrastructure planning and to develop a strategy to enhance the planning process and improve efficiency. This new partnership comes as a result of a crippling drought in the Lower Mekong. The region produces 13 percent of the world’s rice, centering its economic stability on agriculture. However, the current Mekong River levels are at their lowest point of the past century, putting millions of farmers that depend on this water source at risk.

The Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership aims to lessen the region’s vulnerability to climate change and strengthen its infrastructure. This new element adds to the existing six pillars of LMI: agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, as well as health. The success of LMI can be attributed to the targeted approaches of each pillar’s program.

The Lower Mekong Initiative fosters agriculture and food security by expanding trade and investment in the region. Encouraging community engagement in the industry is also key. Similarly, the connectivity pillar draws upon U.S. strengths to promote physical, institutional, and people-to-people connectivity across the region.

The education pillar encourages the sharing of best practices between countries; supporting programs that encourage English language proficiency and teacher training. LMI health pillar combats transnational challenges, such as infectious diseases, as well as supporting the enforcement of International Health Regulations.

Both the Energy Security and Environment and Water Programs work to develop a regional strategy to create sustainable environmental management and access to energy.

The U.S. has played a central role in the success of LMI, having founded a U.S.-Singapore Third Country Program that has trained regional officials on cybercrime and water management. The U.S. has also helped Cambodia launch a women’s business center, with plans to launch another in Vietnam this year.

Through the Lower Mekong Initiative, the region has seen growth in several sectors. The adoption of the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership will further benefit Lower Mekong countries, continuing to narrow the development gap across the region.

Anna O’Toole

Photo: Pixabay

Drought in IndiaIndia is suffering from a heat wave that has caused temperatures to reach nearly 124 degrees Fahrenheit in some regions. This has caused a massive drought in India.

Although June marks the beginning of monsoon season, some experts believe the heavy rain will not alleviate India’s drought problem. The Central Water Commission recently reported that the country’s 91 water reservoirs are only at 17 percent of their total storage capacity.

The Indian government estimated over 300 million people to be effected by the drought. An estimated 370 people have died due to heat and water related issues within the country.

Drought is a major problem throughout the world with the worsening climate change conditions. Even developed countries like the U.S. suffer from water supply issues. However, in developing countries, drought can have a severe impact on an individual’s quality of life.

Small farmers are suffering major losses in their crops, leading to increased hunger and eventual starvation. Various areas in India rely on government shipments of water to survive. Consequently, some have uprooted their lives in rural regions to find more reliable water sources near cities. The drought in India has even led to increased suicide rates among crop growers.

Additionally, the heat wave and drought impact the ability of Indian children to attend school. Schools in some areas have been shut down due to excessive heat and lack of water.

The drought in India has also created political conflict within some states. In Punjab, there is a heated debate over the ownership of river water and the Satluj-Yamuna Link canal.

Nearly 1.3 billion people reside in India and require reliable and safe water to survive. Monsoon season may help the water crisis in the short run, but drought within the country is a common occurrence. Effective drought control efforts are a necessity to curb the issue.

So far, the government has placed restrictions on new sugar factories and sugarcane growth—both highly water-intensive. Additionally, water trains help provide water to drought-stricken areas.

Organizations like The Water Project and the Naam Foundation are attempting to raise awareness and assistance for drought-prone areas within the country. Responsible water usage and efforts to curb climate change are crucial to preventing severe drought in India and various other nations.

Saroja Koneru

Photo: Youtube

Poverty_AidThe 2015-2016 El Niño was only the third ‘Super’ El Niño in recorded history. Experts fear this event’s impacts may have been further worsened by global warming. Those impacts have fallen disproportionately on some of the most impoverished areas of the world, and aid is needed to address the El Niño environmental poverty crisis now affecting millions of people.

El Niño, an array of global changes in climate patterns due to the warming of surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific, is not an uncommon event. Typically it is expected every three to seven years. However, the 2015-2016 El Niño produced record-level climate events, unprecedented even in an El Niño year.

In the 2015 northern Pacific hurricane season 25 level four and five hurricanes developed. The previous annual record was only 18. Meanwhile, Eastern Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. Globally, 2015 temperatures were at a record high resulting in El Niño and global warming pushing climate patterns in the same direction.

El Niño has had a dire impact on the global poor, with many of the hardest hit areas having insufficient infrastructure to confront the damage. Oxfam notes that the current El Niño cycle has placed 60 million people in danger of hunger.

While the climate changes associated with El Niño are fading as it comes to an end, the livelihood-related damage it has caused continues to wreak havoc on the security of impoverished communities.

In areas like Eastern Africa, the failure of crops and the death of cattle will require substantial recovery efforts. As wells go dry, it is not uncommon for drought-displaced families to spend months on end sleeping on the floor of relief centers.

The El Niño environmental poverty crisis reaches across the globe.  Environmental poverty as a result of drought has put 1.5 million Guatemalans in need of food assistance. 3.5 million people are struggling for food in Haiti, where El Niño amplified the preexisting conditions of a 2014 drought. 15 percent of the population in Honduras and three million in Papua New Guinea are at risk for the same reason.

With these figures representing a mere fraction of the countries and communities suffering due to El Niño, the need for support is expansive. Thankfully, significant action is being taken by the international community and significant aid is being mobilized.

The European Union has contributed 125 milllion euros to areas affected by El Niño, dispersing the aid throughout Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean. This record-breaking contribution from the EU towards the El Niño crises will fund emergency actions.

USAID has relied on early tracking of El Niño-related crises to make their relief actions as effective as possible. They are using in place mechanisms designed to push emergency funds into relevant development programs, while also adjusting existing development programs to accelerate recovery. USAID is focusing their humanitarian aid on the most affected areas, addressing, and often mitigating disaster.

Finally, technological aid has also been a source of relief. Partnerships like UNICEF and the Ethiopian government have allowed satellite technology to be implemented to better locate well-sites and map drought-affected areas.

The combination of technological, financial, and humanitarian aid has been instrumental in addressing the environmental poverty spurred by the 2015-2016 Super El Niño. While these environmental conditions have been disproportionately destructive to the poor, these mechanisms continue to work to mitigate the effects of the El Niño environmental poverty crisis.

Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: Flickr

Economic Crisis in VenezuelaOn Saturday, May 14, Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, issued a state of emergency in response to widespread discontent that had risen throughout the country. Protests and calls for a reform in the government came about because of the historic economic crisis in Venezuela.

Since the beginning of 2015, inflation within the country has been on a steady increase. During the months of June and July, it began to accelerate upward. By the close of the year, Venezuela was left with an inflation rate of 180 percent, the highest in the world. This has led to deficiencies in food, medicine and hygiene products.

However, the recent explosion of economic inflation is only a symptom of deeper troubles within the economy that have been building for the past years. Many are criticizing Venezuela for failing to diversify in products and services. Gretchen Bakke of the New Yorker summarized the economic crisis in Venezuela using the adage, “putting all its eggs in one basket.”

Various occurrences have led Venezuela to the brink of economic collapse, but three in particular bear mentioning:

1. Venezuela’s Dependence on Oil as a Profitable Export

Petroleum products made up roughly 93 percent of the $63 billion in exports that Venezuela made in 2014. This is not surprising, since Venezuela is sitting on the largest proven oil reserves in the world. Historically, various Venezuelan presidents have used petroleum production and exports to increase development, yet they failed to diversify their economic productions. In the 1920s Venezuela registered a third of its GDP as agricultural products, but almost a century later, these products make up six percent of GDP and less than one percent of the country’s exports.

Its identity as an oil-producing state has served Venezuela well in the past, but the tide is turning. With lifted sanctions on Iranian petroleum and increased oil production in the United States, Canada and Iraq, petroleum prices have been driven down by a saturated global market. The New York Times reported a barrel of oil to be 70 percent cheaper now than it was two years ago.

2. Venezuela’s Dependence on Water as its Primary Electricity Source

Almost 80 percent of Venezuela’s electricity comes from hydroelectric power. The international community has recently been pushing for cleaner energy (that which does not rely on fossil fuels) and hydroelectricity is one way to achieve these goals. However, hydro-power can be problematic when water turns into a limited resource.

Venezuela has currently been suffering through a three-year drought which many are attributing to El Niño, an intermittent weather pattern that has been accentuated by the recent rise in global temperature. In addition to the normal problems that are generated by water shortages, Venezuela is now facing a shortened work week due to the rationing of electricity for the many shortages.

These newly-prescribed measures are criticized for accelerating the process of economic collapse, since workers now have a shortened period in which they can earn money to pay for the necessities of life.

3. Venezuela’s Unipolar Political System

For years, the socialist party has dominated the branches of the central government, and in the recent escalations of the economic crisis in Venezuela have caused the government to “become more authoritarian,” as the Council on Foreign Relations wrote.

In December of last year, the opposing party finally took control of one part of the government, The National Assembly. Though a referendum is being constructed to oust Maduro from his seat, very few immediate solutions are being proposed to relieve the collapsing economy.

The economic crisis in Venezuela is provoking protests throughout the country. Various citizens of the country told the Wall Street Journal that they have to stand for hours in line to receive a small portion of food for the day. These individuals have hopes to change the trajectory of their nation, and with the majority of the people on their side, they may still have time to do so.

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

Drought in EthiopiaOn May 13, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, USAID announced that it will be giving an additional, much-needed $128 million in humanitarian aid to the country to help mitigate the impact of the drought in Ethiopia, the worst in 50 years.

Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Thomas H. Staal and Commissioner Mitiku Kassa of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission jointly announced the additional aid. Kassa said that the Ethiopian government had contributed $381 million to relief efforts. The U.S. has contributed $705 million in humanitarian aid to Ethiopia since October 2014, and $211.5 million in USAID money to Ethiopia was spent on humanitarian assistance in 2015, specifically.

The most recent addition to the U.S.’s humanitarian aid is intended to provide relief food assistance, safe drinking water, nutrition services and mobile health clinics to help with the huge impact of the drought in Ethiopia. Due to recent rains, USAID is also sending seeds for food production during the expected upcoming rains.

According to NPR reporter Gregory Warner, this drought has not conjured up the typical images of African famine, such as pictures of starving children with distended bellies. Ironically, this has caused some trouble for Ethiopia’s fundraising efforts, said Warner, as there has not been as much media attention given to the drought. Of the $1.4 billion necessary to provide both food and nonfood amenities for the 10.2 million affected people, the country has only secured 54 percent, with the U.S. as its principal donor.

The drought in Ethiopia is the result of El Niño and successive poor rainy seasons. According to Warner, over a third of the country’s crops failed over multiple harvests. Now that the rains are coming, though, there are concerns that this will bring about further difficulties, such as flooding.

The region is incredibly vulnerable to climate change due to its reliance on agriculture and rain-fed agriculture, in particular. According to USAID, though, one of the benefits of providing aid to Ethiopia is its potential as a trading partner, saying, “A healthy and prosperous Ethiopia will increasingly contribute to the stability and economic progress in the region and, as such, is an important trading partner and security ally for the United States.”

Anastazia Vanisko

Photo: Flickr

drought in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is no stranger to drought. However, as they face their worst bout in decades, Middle Eastern turbulence and the Refugee Crisis have spread international relief funds thin.

Determined not to be overcome, Ethiopians and partners like UNICEF are stepping in—with the unexpected help of satellite technology.

The introduction of satellite remote sensing allows areas affected by the drought in Ethiopia to be mapped rapidly, increasing the impact and timeliness of first-response measures. The satellites can also identify ideal well sites, providing valuable freshwater supply when other wells go dry. This technology is moving the approach to facing drought from reactionary to pre-planned, which is making efforts to alleviate the effects of drought more efficient, while preempting some of them all together.

The innovation comes at a pivotal time, with the 2015-2016 El Nino bringing devastating drought in Ethiopia and impacting some of the nation’s most impoverished people. Food security, livestock survival, national economy and basic human needs are all jeopardized by the water shortage. The Ethiopian government and the United Nations have identified 10.2 million Ethiopians in need of food assistance funding.

For Ethiopian farmers and herders, who represent over 80 percent of the nation, groundwater access is fundamental to ensuring food security. That security is greatly jeopardized by freshwater wells going dry at rates as high as 70 percent in some regions. Satellite remote sensing enables farmers to place new wells in more strategic location, using information on hydrogeology, ground vegetation, topology and morphology to find the most successful well locations.

That same satellite technology has the potential to address drought long before those wells go dry. Used to monitor precipitation, vegetation health, and soil moisture, the technology signals where the need is greatest for preventative action.

Satellite use in the region has swiftly made a positive impact. In the hard-hit northern region, satellites have been utilized to identify locations for new water boreholes which could provide water for 100,000 people. The project and others like it, have combined the efforts of the Ethiopian government, UNICEF and private contractors.

The effects of drought in Ethiopia extend beyond crop failure, malnutrition and death of livestock. For impoverished students, it can mean forgoing school in order to walk distances of eight or more hours to fetch water. Others drop out after contracting water-borne diseases from sharing water with animals, or lack the energy to attend school due to their living circumstances. For the international community, it means deciding how to bare and share the burden of 10 million Ethiopians in need of food assistance and six million in need of emergency water.

As the U.N. warns of millions of Ethiopians in danger of acute malnutrition, the U.S. has sent aid in the form of 4 million dollars in maize and wheat seed for households, as well as a variety of disaster experts to work on the ground. Working to counteract drought in Ethiopia represents a growing commitment by the U.S. to humanitarian aid, as well as the protection of a valuable counter-terrorism ally. The seeds sent by the U.S. are expected to feed 226,000 households.

While conditions remain dire, innovation like satellite technology represents a larger atmosphere of determination. Such determination is vital in keeping the more dire reaches of famine at bay.

Charlotte Bellomy
The difference between drought and famine has the potential to be very confusing. Both result in an insufficient supply of food and water along with the wide and rapid spread of disease. Potentially both disasters could lead to the economic and social collapse of the community. However, the truth about both disasters is quite simple.

In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, drought is defined as a period of dryness, especially when prolonged. Likewise, famine is defined as an extreme scarcity of food. While famine can sometimes be the outcome of a drought, it is considered to be more of a manmade disaster, therefore more preventable, and results from the lack of availability of food and water. A drought is solely the result of finicky Mother Nature and almost entirely unpreventable. In both cases, if aid is not immediately offered to the affected people, starvation, rampant disease, economic and social collapse and death will take its toll.

Here are eight quick facts that define these disasters in order to keep them straight.



  • The most common form of drought is a lack of water vapor in the atmosphere, which causes precipitation. A lack of moisture in the air causes wildfires that can damage communities and food supplies, ruin forests, or harm people and animals.
  • Of all the water on earth, only .003 percent is available fresh water that is not polluted, trapped in soil, or too far underground. During a drought, shared sources of water such as rivers, reservoirs, and groundwater for wells are in jeopardy of running dry.
  • Since the 1970s, the percentage of Earth’s surface affected by drought has doubled. Global warming is largely blamed.
  • Meteorologists predict drought based on precipitation patterns, stream flow, and moisture of soil over long periods of time.



  • Famines rarely happen because of a single event and often are the result of many years of struggling to grow food in a harsh environment.
  • Famine doesn’t usually cause the deaths of whole communities. Instead, it’s often old people and the youth who suffer from disease and malnutrition as they are the most vulnerable.
  • Different factors can trigger famine – the choice of crops planted, ineffective farming techniques, political systems and civil wars.
  • Famine happens when people don’t have the ability to cope during extreme natural conditions like drought.

-Kira Maixner
Source: Do Something, Merriam Webster Online
Photo: Asia News