Ethiopia’s humanitarian crisis

In this blog, Cathy Watson discusses the drought which hit Ethiopia in 2015, and how the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) were used during this time.

In my first post I discussed the World Humanitarian Summit and the experience of participating in the exhibition and sharing information about LEGS, the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards, which provide guidance and tools for people working with livestock keepers affected by disaster around the world.

Now I’d like to move from the global stage to a particular country - Ethiopia - which this year experienced the third largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Ethiopia is split into the pastoral lowlands and the agricultural highlands and between them they support the largest livestock population in Africa. Ethiopia’s pastoralists are well known for their herds of camels, cattle, sheep and goats but the highland communities, which make up 85% of the country’s population, are also dependent on animals for their livelihoods. Alongside their crops of cereals, legumes and oil seeds, Ethiopia’s highlanders own 41 million cattle, 16 million sheep, and 9 million goats, not to mention many more chickens. These animals provide not only food for the family in the form of milk, meat and eggs, but also transport, cash income, and draught power and manure to support crop production.

In 2015, northern Ethiopia was hit by the worst drought in 50 years. The drought was the result of El Niño, the warming of the central Pacific Ocean which leads to major weather fluctuations around the world, coupled with failed spring rains across much of Ethiopia. Along with crop losses between 50% and 90%, many livestock died, and 12.5 million animals in Amhara Region alone faced feed and water shortages. Many people sold their animals in order to buy food, including their draught oxen, and the price of livestock collapsed in the markets.

The application of LEGS

In early 2016 a study was commissioned by the Government of Ethiopia’s Agricultural Task Force [1] to explore how LEGS, and the Ministry of Agriculture’s national guidelines on livestock relief, were applied in the El Niño response. The study found that LEGS was known and used quite widely in the pastoral areas, but was virtually unknown in Ethiopia’s highlands. Although LEGS is designed for all disaster-affected communities where livestock play a role in livelihoods, there was a misconception that (like the government guidelines) it was considered to be designed only for pastoralists, who are more commonly affected by drought.

As a result of the lack of application of LEGS, some El Niño drought responses were inappropriate or poorly planned, particularly in the highlands. For example:

  • Largely failing to target core breeding stock in animal feed programmes
  • Poor pricing of destocking projects leading to disruption of local markets
  • Failing to prevent sales of key livelihood assets such as draught oxen, which are vital for the next planting season
  • Undermining local pharmacies with free drug distribution
  • Lack of coordination between key actors, which limited the impact of the drought response

There is evidence from earlier studies in Ethiopia that applying the LEGS approach can help to address these challenges: ‘when the LEGS guidelines are followed rigorously in the Emergency Phase the impact is clearly felt and highly appreciated by communities and long term benefits reported.’ 

Similar evidence from across the Horn of Africa confirms this. A report from Sudan noted that ‘LEGS has provided: a framework with which to organise activities; guidance on when different activities are appropriate; and a common language in talking about these activities’. In Kenya, a senior official stated: ‘Before LEGS, livestock emergency interventions were done haphazardly with lots of inconsistencies... Now there is some accountably and stakeholder involvement.’

The El Niño study concluded that the LEGS approach should be expanded into all areas, both highland and lowlands, where livestock play an important role in livelihoods. Mainstreaming the approach at national and local level within government and non-government structures will be an important part of this.

As the impact of climate change intensifies, disasters such as the El Niño drought will continue to affect livestock keepers in Ethiopia’s highlands and across the Horn of Africa. LEGS aims to provide support based on good practice and technical soundness for them and for all livestock keepers around the world affected by disaster.

Further Reading

For further information on LEGS and copies of the sources quoted above see the LEGS website.

[1] The Agricultural Task Force is chaired by the Government of Ethiopia and members include UN agencies, international and national NGOs.

** This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog belong solely to the blog owner and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of World Animal Protection.