Science summary: The drought in Ethiopia, 2015

The worst drought in decades gripped north and central Ethiopia in 2015, affecting nearly 10 million people. The dry conditions left hundreds of thousands of farmers with failed crops and weakened or dead livestock. The resulting food scarcity meant more than eight million people in the parched country needed emergency food aid, according to the United Nations (UN).1 The magnitude of the devastation to Ethiopia led the UN’s Allahoury Diallo to declare that the “drought is not just a food crisis – it is, above all, a livelihood crisis.”

Signs of trouble began to surface early in the year. Farmers waited for the belg rains that generally occur between February and May in the central and eastern parts of the country (Figures 1, 2 and 3). About 10% of the Ethiopian population is completely dependent on this season to provide rainfall for crops and pastures. But in 2015, after a false start, the belg rains came a month late in northern and central Ethiopia.

What also arrived was a particularly strong El Niño, associated with the warming of equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean. The effects of El Niño play out in different ways across the planet. In Ethiopia, El Niño can lead to drier conditions, mainly in the north-western part of the country, affecting the rainy season known as kiremt that occurs in June–September. In a normal year, the kiremt rains account for 50–80% of annual rainfall.

ICRISAT/A. Paul-Bossuet


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