climate change putting

Climate Change Putting Huge Strain on the Economy

Ethiopia is one of the countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change. The number of people at risk due to climate change is increasing drastically. As rural livelihood systems, like crop cultivation, pastoralism and agro-pastoralism, remain highly exposed to dynamic and unpredictable climatic conditions, the increase in drought and desertification have resulted in significant losses of arable land and increased dependency on food aid, and has resulted in diminishing water resources and hunger. Climate change is also putting pressure on the country’s economy. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale investigates the extent of the problem.

For years, the life of Alemu Hadu, a father of four who lives in the state of Afar, was no different from that of other pastoralists. Since he lives in an area where the potential for crop cultivation is limited due to lack of rainfall, Alemu’s livelihood depended on his livestock.
But everything changed recently. His 50 cattle and camels died because of the effects of climate change in his area. “This is a disaster. I can’t feed myself, my family or improve my livelihood, all because of climate change,” says a frustrated Alemu. “We have almost no water for ourselves, let alone for our livestock. We also have no grazing land. We are struggling to survive with the aid and food support provided by the government and NGOs.”

In recent years, Ethiopia’s exposure to climate change has caused catastrophes such as floods, droughts, wildfire and landslides. Droughts have hit the nation particularly hard. Between 1983 and 2015, at least 20 major droughts struck the country. The frequency of nationwide droughts that cause severe food shortages also increased from once every 10 years in the 1970s and 1980s, to every three years now, according to USAID.

The effects of drought are often combined with other hazards, like an increasing number of people needing food assistance. Between 1990 and 2005, 6.3 million people on average required food assistance, totaling over 654,000 tons every year. This number has increased to closer to 10 million over the past 10 years, according to FAO.

Alemu is one of those in need of urgent assistance. He blames climate change for making rearing livestock more difficult than ever. “It used to rain three times a year. But in the last three years, it has rained once, and even then, it was only a small volume,” he says. “The weather is highly unpredictable. We can’t be sure where to take our cattle anymore.”

Asefa Hailu, a climatologist and chief of party at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate and Disaster (BRACED), a program funded by the Department for International Development, points his finger at the lack of precise forecasts and information delivery instruments for farmers and pastoralists. “It has made the problem worse. The Ethiopian weather forecasting system lacks precision and it does not include all locations across the country.” BRACED, along with Farm Africa, registered 4000 pastoralists and farmers in Afar, and 20,000 in Somali region, as being at risk and eligible for compensation under the subsidized livestock insurance program. They provided ETB682,661 for 1,250 pastoralists from six woredas in Afar region in April 2019, as the harsh realities of drought take over the area.

The National Metrology Service Agency (NMSA) is aware of this problem. “We have capacity limitations. However, the precision of short and long term forecasts has significantly improved over the last three years,” says Ahmedin Abdulhakim, director of Public Relations and Communication at NMSA.

The Agency, which was established in 1980, currently has 11 service centers in major towns, 1300 stations, and close to 300 automatic weather machines that send information to the centers every 15 minutes. They plan to increase that number to 700 by the end of the second phase of the Growth and Transformation plan.

Although NMSA is boosting its capacity, climate change is becoming more unpredictable. “Our findings indicate that the temperature across the country, including Addis Ababa, is rising at an alarming rate, resulting in unexpected weather conditions. The weather has become unpredictable, especially during the Belg harvest season (February-May). Although precise forecasts are always difficult, even for developed countries, the Belg season in Ethiopia has become more unpredictable,” explains Ahmedin.

According to an April 2019 special alert from the FAO and the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture, severe dryness and unfavourable weather forecasts in east Africa are raising food security concerns. Cumulative rainfall in Ethiopia, Somalia, and southern and western Kenya has decreased by 50pct from the Horn average, while it is up to 85pct below average in Uganda.
With the agriculture sector almost exclusively dependent on rainfall (one to three percent of cultivated land is irrigated), and dominated by small-scale subsistence farmers (about 16 million households) who practice traditional methods, the vulnerability of the country to climate change is likely to affect the economy, experts suggest. Many farmers grow slow maturing, high yielding ‘long cycle’ crops cultivated both in the Belg and the Meher (June-September) seasons. These crops are highly vulnerable to changes in seasonal rainfall.

The latest eight-month report to Parliament by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock indicates that out of a total 1.96 million hectares of land planned to be cultivated in the current Belg season, only 11.6Pct has been nurtured. This is mainly due to rain shortages especially in Borena, east and west Guji zone, west and east Hararge as well as south Omo, Wolaita, and Gamo Gofa.

Coffee is the other crop threatened by climate change. In fact, there are concerns that Arabica coffee production could become impossible in Ethiopia by the end of this century if the change continues at the current rate, according to a study published by the UN earlier this year.

Adefris Worku (PhD), Climate Science Research Director at the Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute stresses that the climate in Ethiopia is changing fundamentally at an alarming rate. “As a result, the agriculture sector and the entire economy is on the edge of severe damage at the slightest climate shock, like drought.”

Beside the rise in temperature and shortage of rainfall, the amount of water bodies in the country have also been significantly affected, according to Adefris. “Many lakes, such as the renowned Haromaya Lake, have dried over the last decade. The amount of water in the existing lakes and rivers is also dropping, while some are almost dry. Water bodies in the rift valley areas are drying faster, while the area remains highly prone to drought.”

There are two fundamental factors for the escalating climate change in Ethiopia. The first is global warming, which was mainly contributed to by industrialized economies, while the second arises from dwindling forest coverage within the country.

In 2011, the carbon emission load was estimated at 150 million metric tons, which was estimated to reach 400 million metric tons by 2030 if left unchecked. As a result, Ethiopia planned to reduce its emissions by 164 million metric tons of carbon over the years. The overall progress evaluation report across sectors will be disclosed in a few months, according to Tesfaye Gashaw, public relations and communications director at the Environment, Forest and Climate Change Commission, which was a ministry until a few months ago. “From our assessment, there has been some progress, but we are still behind in adapting to climate challenges.”

Deforestation contributes to 40Pct to 60Pct of the climate change in Ethiopia, according to Adefris. However, 92,000 hectares of forest are destroyed in Ethiopia every year, while only 20,000 hectare are planted and cultivated, according to the Environment and Forest Research Institute. Close to 80Pct of the country’s population, the majority of whom live in rural areas, still use wood as a main source of energy. However, the deforestation rate has almost halved over the past decade from 150,000 hectares ten years ago.

Ethiopia amended the standard used to calculate forest coverage in 2014, and the government says that forest coverage has improved drastically over the last ten years. However, some beg to differ. The length of trees in a forest needs to be above five meters, according to United Nations. Based on this criteria, Ethiopia’s forest coverage is around 3.2Pct. However, the government recognizes all trees above two meters as being part of a forest and asserts that forest coverage has now reached 15.5Pct.

Despite the government’s plan to increase coverage to 20Pct by end of 2019/2020, the reality is far lower. “Many institutions and associations are taking the initiative to plant trees, but none of them are growing well because there is no follow up after planting,” explains Tesfaye.

However, Adefris argues that the problem arises from Ethiopia’s land policy. “Land per farmer is decreasing, so agriculture is expanding at the expense of forests. Mountainous areas formerly covered by forests are under cultivation, even using ropes and hand tools. If there are no forests on the mountains, there is no rain. If there is no rain, there is no water.”

Ethiopia was called Africa’s water tower, mainly due to its high plateaus and mountain chains, which acted as natural water reservoirs. The rain over the mountains is stored as underground water, and moves down to the lowlands and even to neighboring countries like Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, Sudan and Egypt. “However, as long as the forests on the mountains dwindle, the decline in water volume will continue. Even Lake Tana might dry. It is only a matter of time,” says Adefris.

In order to address the spread of farming practices into mountainous areas and forests, the government is currently crafting a national land use policy, according to Tesfaye, which is expected to clearly identify land for forestry, agriculture, industry and residential purposes, among others. The Integrated Land Use and Policy Project Office was formed in 2018 at the Prime Minister’s office and was tasked with finalizing the first policy of its kind in a three year time span. The policy is also expected to boost private investment in forestry. People can invest in large scale forestry, benefit from the carbon trade fund, and also sell the timber when it is mature.

But Ethiopia’s reforestation efforts cannot create a lasting solution because climate change is mainly the outcome of the activities of industrial nations. “Even if Ethiopia manages to increase forest coverage to 100Pct, and developed nations cut carbon emissions, neutralizing the carbon already in the atmosphere would take at least the next 50 years,” Adefris concludes.

8th Year • Jun.16 – July.15 2019 • No. 75

Ashenafi Endale

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