Former president Mary Robinson will travel to Ethiopia with Ireland's largest aid agencies this week to witness the international response to the country's worst drought in half a century.
Mrs Robinson, who is UN Special Envoy for climate change, will meet representatives of the Ethiopian government and visit areas affected by El Niño, a water-warming weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which has led to sharply reduced rainfall levels across densely populated swathes of Ethiopia. Some 10.2 million people are urgently in need of food aid in the country.
Mrs Robinson will be accompanied by the chief executives of three large aid agencies - Concern Worldwide (Dominic MacSorley), Trócaire (Eamonn Meehan) and Goal (Barry Andrews) - and will see some of the programmes run by each organisation in Ethiopia.
“I am saddened that Ethiopia should have to cope with this El Niño situation,” Mrs Robinson said on the eve of the trip. “Despite the efforts of the Government of Ethiopia, and humanitarian partners, the impacts of climate change have weakened people’s ability to cope with El Niño, which is unfair considering Ethiopia’s negligible contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.”
More than 80 per cent of Ethiopia’s population works in agriculture, leaving the country particularly vulnerable to drought and climate change.
El Niño, which occurs every two to seven years, impacts weather systems around the globe, resulting in some regions receiving more rain and leaving other suffering from drought. It is usually followed by La Niña, which is the cooling of the Pacific Ocean, and which can also bring floods and droughts to many regions.
International agencies have called for a La Niña conference to take place this September to highlight the severity of the deepening crisis and the severe funding shortfall.
Mrs Robinson's visit coincides with a growing food crisis in the Horn of Africa, where aid agencies have been pleading for the international community to do more to prevent this becoming the worst food emergency there since 1985. The United Nations has said the level of acute need has already exceeded levels seen in the Horn of Africa drought of 2011, which led to the loss of some 200,000 lives in neighbouring Somalia.
“Climate change impacts will continue to undermine development gains and increase the vulnerability of people to natural disasters. Therefore, the international community has a duty to reduce emissions, support resilience and adaptation efforts in the hardest hit communities,” Mrs Robinson said.
It is estimated that, globally, €3.4 billion is needed to combat the impacts of the El Niño crisis.