Ban urges world to support Ethiopia's efforts to battle worst drought in 30 years

31 January 2016 – The international community must stand with the people of Ethiopia in their time of need, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, urging donors gathered in Addis Ababa to step up assistance to the drought-hit country, which is battling the effects of one of the most powerful El Niño events in recorded history, made worse by the impact of climate change.

"The people of this beautiful country are facing their worst drought in thirty years," Mr. Ban told participants at a donors humanitarian round table convened in the Ethiopian capital in the margins of the 26th African Union Summit. Later today, the Secretary-General is expected to visit drought-stricken areas of the country.

In the Ethiopian capital, he told the donors' meeting that the scale of the emergency is too much for any single Government. "The impact of El Niño is unpredictable, but experts say it is likely to affect food security for the next two years," he stressed.

"The Government of Ethiopia has shown remarkable leadership in this drought response. It has made the greatest financial contribution, allocating more than $381 million to the crisis so far," said the UN chief, noting that the Government-managed Productive Safety Net Programme, in partnership with the World Bank, aims to assist some eight million people with emergency food and cash transfers.

Yet, while the United Nations boosted early action through some $25 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in 2015, more is urgently needed. "Immediate support for Ethiopia will save lives and avoid preventable suffering. Immediate support will also safeguard the impressive development gains that Ethiopia has made over the past years and decades, Mr. Ban explained.

Such support would also strengthen Ethiopia's national distribution channels and social support networks, and build resilience for the future, he underscored.

Noting that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by UN Member States last year are based on the promise to leave no one behind, the Secretary-General said that humanitarian crises are the main reason why some 100 million people are currently "left far behind," in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere.

"The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May will be an opportunity to ensure that we start supporting those furthest behind first," he noted and expressed the hope that the participants at today's event are already engaged in the Summit process. "We need to hear your voices in Istanbul," he said.

By contributing to humanitarian aid, donors are helping to fulfil the international community's pledge to the most vulnerable. Support for the Ethiopian Government and people through the current crisis will be a critical test of our commitment to implementing the SDGs, stressed the UN chief.

"We face unrelenting humanitarian needs around the world. Many are generated by conflict and displacement. These human-made crises are extremely difficult to resolve and can last for years or even decade," he noted, but stressed that the needs generated by El Niño are limited. "We know it will pass, and the situation will improve. This crisis will end."

"Until it does, I urge you to make the investment that is needed now, to support the Ethiopian Government and people through the difficult times ahead, and to build for the future," said the Secretary-General.

Mr. Ban's appeal echoes similar calls from throughout the United Nations system for the world to scale up its support for the Ethiopian Government's efforts. In early December 2015, the heads of four UN humanitarian bodies appealed for massive international funding now to pre-empt the high risk of large scale suffering later.

"We know this is coming. We know how to prevent it. We simply have to act, now," they wrote in an opinion article for the Huffington Post.

"So far, donors have provided an additional $200 million in aid, but there are early indications that the amount needed to make sure lives are not lost could be around $1 billion. Ethiopia needs that money now, if we are to avert a second tragedy in 30 years," they added, referring to the catastrophic drought that killed hundreds of thousands from 1983 to 1985.

The four senior officials – UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA) Stephen O'Brien, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres, UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake – stressed that Ethiopia is far different from 30 years ago and its Government is now leading the way with decisive action.

"With the leadership of the Government and the support of the international community, Ethiopians can survive this crisis," they wrote, noting that back-to-back droughts exacerbated by the strongest El Niño phenomenon on record have put millions of people in need of Government support.

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