Mary Robinson in plea over Ethiopian drought

Millions need food aid but funding is $518m short, says former Irish president

UN special envoy for El Niño and climate change Mary Robinson meeting Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros A Ghebreyesus during her visit to Ethiopia. Photograph: PA

UN special envoy for El Niño and climate change Mary Robinson meeting Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros A Ghebreyesus during her visit to Ethiopia. Photograph: PA


Former president Mary Robinson has urged world leaders to turn their focus to the severe drought, brought about by shifting weather patterns, that has left millions of Africans in need of food aid.

El Niño, a water-warming weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, has led to sharply reduced rainfall across densely populated swathes of Ethiopia and other African states. Its effects have been worsened by climate change, leaving an estimated 10.2 million people urgently in need of food assistance in Ethiopia alone.

On a visit to Ethiopia in her capacity as UN special envoy for climate and El Niño, Mrs Robinson said there was a funding gap of $518 million for efforts to mitigate the effects of the drought in the country. However, with the international community preoccupied with migration, Brexit and conflict zones, it was difficult to garner global attention for the problem.

“I don’t think the impact of El Niño, aggravated by climate change, has received the attention that it should have from the international community,” she said after meeting the Ethiopian foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Not only is it severe here in Ethiopia and needs more support, but it’s also affecting southern Africa very badly. It’s affecting parts of central America, such as Honduras. It’s affecting parts of Asia, like Vietnam. ”

El Niño, which occurs every two to seven years, affects 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, who is travelling with the heads of Trócaire, Goal and Concern, all of which work in Ethiopia, said it was essential to agree a blueprint so that international organisations and affected countries would be better placed to react to the next El Niño.

Co-ordinated response

“We can try to really make sure that we bring together in a non- silo way all the partnership support for the countries affected, including Ethiopia, and that they would be in the lead in early-warning and trigger that coordinated response,” she said.

“Then I think it would be less impactful on the countries that are targeted by El Niño and La Nina, which is coming up at the end of this year.”

Mrs Robinson’s visit coincides with a growing food crisis in the Horn ofAfrica, 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 UN has said the level of acute need has already exceeded levels seen in the drought of 2011, which claimed some 200,000 lives in neighbouring Somalia.

Particularly vulnerable

Addis Ababa

Dr Tedros stressed that while Ethiopia was particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, it did relatively little to cause the problem – a reference to the fact that the country has one of the lowest per capita carbon emissions in the world.

“We have contributed nothing, but we are the victims. And although we are the victims we want to be part of the solution,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mrs Robinson will travel to the northern Tigray region, which has been badly affected by the drought.