DEC: 'We know exactly how serious the situation is' for Ethiopia

A woman collects water from a stream outside the village of Tsemera. Credit: Reuters

By Saleh Saeed, Chief Executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee

Saleh Saeed, Chief Executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee, writes about the challenges faced by Ethiopia in the midst of a devastating drought.

There was a drought in Ethiopia in 1984 but there was also a civil war and the country’s economy was crippled.

Today, Ethiopia is facing what could be its worst drought in 50 years because consecutive rains have failed as a result of the weather phenomenon called El Nino.

Now though, the economy is strong and the Ethiopian government is taking a leading role in fighting the food crisis.

A man receives cooking supplies at an aid distribution point in a village. Credit: Reuters

More countries need to do as the UK has done and step up to help. The story is sadly very different in neighbouring South Sudan where civil war and a crippled economy are the main cause of the food crisis there.

In Ethiopia though this is not the story of a hopeless country stuck in an endless loop of self-inflicted crises. Far from it.

In 1984, if someone asked us why we didn’t stop the crisis before it happened we could say with some truth “we didn’t know. We never saw it coming”.

Not today. The systems put in place after 1984 make sure of that. We have satellite images to track rainfall and crop growth. There is market data showing the cost of grain soaring, and cattle prices crashing as poor farmers sell the only assets they have.

We have household surveys that carefully track the increasing struggle of families to survive. All this information means we know exactly how serious the situation is and we have a very clear idea of what will happen if we don’t act.

The DEC is responding to the latest drought crisis facing Ethiopians. Credit: Reuters

And we are acting. DEC members have been responding to this crisis for months. They know they can save lives and livelihoods by acting now instead of waiting until the peak of the crisis in July or August.

Every pound spent to protect families now will save at least five pounds we would have to spend if we waited until summer. The situation in Ethiopia is so very different from 1984 today and the outcome must be very different too.

Saleh Saeed's views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.