A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Small-scale farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia are likely to bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change in the region, which will include increased poverty, water scarcity, and food insecurity, according to a new Oxfam International report released today.
The international development agency’s report, “The Rain Doesn’t Come on Time Anymore: Poverty, Vulnerability, and Climate Variability in Ethiopia,” was launched at a special Earth Day celebration organized by the Climate Change Forum-Ethiopia in collaboration with other environmental organizations. While Ethiopia has always suffered from great climatic variability, including droughts that have contributed to hunger and even famine in the past, the report details how climate change is set to make the lives of the poorest even harder.
A country of farmers
“People who are already poor and marginalized are struggling to cope with the added burden of increasingly unpredictable weather,” said Abera Tola, Oxfam’s Horn of Africa regional director. “It is getting harder and harder for families and communities to bounce back from ever-changing, inconsistent weather affecting their livelihoods, and many have been forced to sell livestock or remove children from school – coping mechanisms that only increase the cycle of vulnerability.”
Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world and 85 percent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. The agricultural sector is especially vulnerable to the adversities of weather and climate since it is rain fed, done using relatively basic technologies, and on tiny plots of land.
Women are hardest hit
“From the Rift Valley to Tigray, farmers and pastoralists around the country have shared with us the toll that the changing weather is having on their communities, from ruined crops to dying cattle,” said Tola. “Even relatively small shifts in the growing season, can spell disaster for the poorest farmers and pastoralists who are already struggling in poverty.”
Women and girls in particular are disproportionately affected by climate variability. In times of crisis, women tend to stay home with their children, while men move away to look for alternative means of survival. Women also have fewer options to find other ways of making a living, especially since women’s literacy rate is not even half of that of men. Women are also not given a say in household decisions and are frequently without cash savings or assets to sell to buy food and other basic items.
“The rain doesn’t come on time anymore. After we plant, the rain stops just as our crops start to grow. And it begins to rain after the crops have already been ruined,” Sefya Funge, a farmer in Adamitullu Jiddo Kombolcha district in Ethiopia told Oxfam. “Because of a lack of feed and water, most of my cattle have died. The few that survived had to be sold so that we could buy food to live on. As I no longer have the means to support my family, only three of my eight kids are still with me. Losing our assets was bad, but the fact that our family is separated is devastating.”
Coping with climate change
With some assistance from non-governmental organizations and the government, small-scale farmers and pastoralists are adopting a variety of coping mechanisms, according to the report. In the farming areas, many are shifting to more drought tolerant crops and varieties, improved forest management practices, diversified energy sources, and alternative means of income from off-farm activities. Pastoralists have also divided pasture into wet and dry season grazing areas to better manage risk, while others have changed the composition of their heard from cattle to camels and goats, which can better tolerate dry, hot weather.
Poverty, limited resources, little alternative sources of income and livelihoods, lack of knowledge and expertise, and the absence of appropriate public policies and financing, increase vulnerability and decrease people’s capacity to cope.
Oxfam has made several recommendations – at the national, regional and community level – for the development of a holistic approach to increase resilience, so communities can bounce back from climatic shocks quicker.
Recommendations at the national level include:
- Prepare and implement a national framework for guiding climate change adaptation and mitigation, building on the National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) and integrated with the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP)
- Investing in agricultural research on the use of new crop varieties and livestock species that are more tolerant to drought.
- Ensuring civil society and community participation, especially women’s groups, both in formulating climate change policies and in integrating climate change into development priorities.
- Ensuring priorities and investments address the gendered impact of climate change.
- Strengthen cooperation among policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, research institutions, and the media.
Recommendations at the community level include:
- Investing in livelihood opportunities and risk management strategies for poor farmers and pastoralists, particularly women.
- Investing and improving agriculture extension services
- Preparing long-term adaptation plans based on the sharing of best practices through community participation, civil society engagement, and the participation of academic and research institutions, with regular monitoring to identify promising practices for scaling up.
- Building on what farmers and pastoralists are already doing to adapt to climate variability and change. Investigate these practices further for their sustainability and impact on poverty and inequality, and potential for replication or enhancement.
- Investing in new forestation programs, reforestation, and sustainable management of the remaining forests. Ensure that management systems guarantee a return to the communities that manage the resource – the only way to ensure genuinely sustainable use of forests and woodland.
- Investing in community environmental and drought monitoring systems and improve community disaster risk reduction capacity.
- Increasing use of renewable energy such as solar energy and promoting photovoltaic technology.
Rich countries must help Ethiopia adapt
Oxfam has also asserted that developed countries have the responsibility to not only reduce emissions that cause climate change, but also help Ethiopia adapt to climate change impacts that will still affect the poorest, no matter how fast we reduce emissions.
“Climate change is impacting the poorest first, despite the fact that they didn’t contribute to the crisis,” said Tola. “As global climate change negotiations continue, world leaders must not forget the fact that poor people are dealing with the negative impacts of a changing climate every day.”