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COP27: In Ethiopia, climate callouts put women a step ahead of looming crises

Through early warnings, embankment building and cash transfers, the World Food Programme is empowering communities facing drought and floods
, Claire Nevill
Duniya_H addresses women in Danane Ethiopia
WFP programme participant Duniya gives feedback at an Early Warning Information session in Danan, near Gode, in Ethiopia, about funds that are available to women in her community as part of a forecast-financing initiative backed by the World Food Programme. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde

“I’m almost 50 years old and never have I seen such hunger in this town,” says Duniya, from Danan town, in Ethiopia’s Somali region – an area firmly in the grip of the Horn of Africa drought. “We are pastoralists, dependent on livestock. Over 20 of my cows have died due to this drought – you can see their carcasses scattered around.” 

Duniya pauses and looks up at the parched, thatched dome roof of her home and asks: “How can we overcome this, how do we ever get over such need and hunger?”

The humanitarian answer is surely to secure protection for Duniya and her family before a climate shock, such as Ethiopia’s worst drought in four decades, even strikes.

Livestock carcasses are strewn across open spaces in Danan point to the pressures on pastoralists. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde
Carcasses of cherished  livestock strewn across plains in Danan highlight the need for a longer-term response to empower pastoralists. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde

The World Food Programme (WFP) uses the latest technology to spot warning signs and trigger responses. This allows it to respond through approaches including providing cash transfers for those most in need.

The past four rainy seasons have failed in Ethiopia and the fifth is performing well below average. Over 24 million people, almost a quarter of the population, are projected to be affected by drought. At least 9.9 million of these need emergency food assistance.

In Somali region, WFP is intervening before the next crisis hits to protect the livelihoods of people such as Duniya, her eight grown-up children and six grandchildren. This is in addition to saving lives, through its ongoing support to 2.8 million people with food,

Women taking part in an anticipatory action programme in Ethiopia
Women in Danan receive information about forecast-financing funds. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde

Milgo, a mother of five from Burkoyar village – used to survive on what little she could make from selling samosas at the market. “I used to cook once or twice a day for my children,” she says. “We couldn’t grow anything and I only have one bull and a few goats remaining – the rest have died due to lack of pasture.” 

Milgo received 14,100 Ethiopian birr from WFP (US$268), which will cover her family’s most pressing needs during the next three months. “We can buy food, medicine and clothes for our children. I can now afford to buy animal feed for our remaining livestock,” she says, after redeeming her digital cash transfer using her mobile phone. 

A woman in Bukoyar near Gode in Ethiopia with a WFP cash transfer card. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde
A woman in Burkoyar, near Gode in Ethiopia, with a WFP wallet containing a card enabling withdrawals from a special account. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde

She walks through dusty streets to the nearest market and buys tomatoes, onions, potatoes and rice to cook for her children’s lunch. “This WFP cash assistance will help a lot and I now know we will survive the next three months. Not only has WFP saved lives but also saved our livelihoods,” says Milgo. 

After hearing the ‘early warning’ messages passed on during a community meeting as part of the programme, Milgo prepared her land and planted sorghum – a crop which requires less water to grow.

Flood protection and diversion embankment activities in Bukoyar village, Somali Region of Ethiopia as part of an integrated early warning program to help manage the risks posed by climate hazards to food security. Photo: Michael Tewelde
A flood-protection and diverting embankment in Burkoyar village, Somali region, as part of a multi-pronged WFP project. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde

“I always wanted to sit down at home since I am old. But now I’ve cultivated my land, fenced the farm to protect my animals,” she says. “I now know we can’t wait. If we do not get any rains a lot of people will die from hunger as we are all dependent on rainfall. We have to take early action.”

The communities of both women were also advised on how to harvest and manage water wisely in the face of the current drought.

Milgo Yasin Muhumed with her children in Bukoyar in Ethiopia. WFP/Michael Tewelde
Milgo with three of her five children. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde

“We want to change lives with the rangelands projects invested in by WFP and we’re also hoping to plant in our own rainfed farming plots,” says Milgo. 

The communities that WFP supports know that taking early action will buy them time to plan for the possibility of intensified droughts down the line. 

People in Dabat, Ethiopia, receive wheat sourced from Ukraine at a WFP distribution point in March. Photo: Claire Nevill
People in Dabat, Ethiopia, receive wheat sourced from Ukraine at a WFP distribution point. Photo: WFP/Claire Nevill
Digging half-moon shapes helps land rehabilitation by helping to retain water in Elan, in Ethiopia's Somali region. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde
Digging semi-circles aids water retention in a WFP-backed regreening project in Elan village, in Ethiopia's Somali region. Photo: WFP/Michael Tewelde

“We can get over this if we work, cultivate and produce our own food that we eat by our own hands,” says Duniya. “We can make it if we cooperate, bring new ideas and support each other. If we do so and food prices decrease, everything will be OK, and we will get out of the drought.”

People are coming to the end of a delayed and poor rainy season in Ethiopia, and they are worried. The current meagre level of pasture will not see livestock through until the next rainy season due in March.

One step ahead: Click above to watch video

“We still worry about the changing climate, and we worry that there will be a repeat poor performance of the coming rains,” says Milgo. “I had a lot of livestock and now few are left due to the drought. These worries remain in our hearts.”

Thanks to financial support from Denmark (DANIDA) and Ireland, WFP is scaling up anticipatory actions for food security in Ethiopia. With more funding from other international donors, WFP could be reaching many more people in Ethiopia with anticipatory actions that reduce humanitarian response needs and costs, and that mitigate the effects on lives and livelihoods.

In the Somali region, WFP operates the following three anticipatory actions:  1. Early warning – alerted 137,000 people to forecast drought, with tips for reducing impact on land, livestock; 2. Cash transfers – we help 25,000 people with digital cash or hard currency. With many households headed by women, it's a great form of empowerment; 3. Building embankments, canals and soil bunds are among rehabilitation activities that will support 45,000 people in Somali region and increase fodder production for their animals.

Learn more about WFP's work in Ethiopia... and climate action

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