Media CenterAs El Niño Maintains Its Grip in Ethiopia, CRS Expands Emergency Assistance

Photo by Kim Pozniak/CRS

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Nancy McNally
Catholic Relief Services
Based in Nairobi, Kenya
[email protected]
+254 (0) 20421000


Climate change is being held largely to blame for two consecutive seasons of failed and erratic rains in 2015. Catholic Relief Services is supporting efforts to manage the crisis, but is urging preparedness as the El Niño weather disturbance could mean more lost harvests well into 2016.

BALTIMORE, MD, October 21, 2015 – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has been steadily expanding its emergency food assistance programs in Ethiopia, as the second consecutive rainy season failed this month. In huge swathes across the country, it has now barely rained for the entire year, and it is feared that an extended El Niño could threaten the next rains which normally would begin in March.

The numbers of people who are turning to emergency food assistance have steadily increased over the year: from about 4.5 million people just in August, now the numbers have grown to some 8.2 million people. Herding communities have lost livestock and can only sell their thin animals at a pittance, unable to graze their animals as everything green has disappeared. In the wider Horn of Africa, it is expected that more than 22 million people will be in need of emergency food assistance by the end of the year, according to the UN.

CRS, working through both local Church and international partners, is now assisting some 2.2 million of the most vulnerable people. Many are poor farmers, dependent on the erratic rains for food and income, who now face severe hunger. The World Food Program (WFP) and the government of Ethiopia are also taking on additional numbers of beneficiaries as the devastating drought continues.

“The lean season in some of our operational areas, when food is scarce between harvests, is usually for three months, from April to June,” said Matt Davis, the CRS Country Representative in Ethiopia. “It is hard to predict, but there are serious concerns the lean season in 2016 could last for eight months as opposed to three.”

Malnutrition has also seen a significant uptick, with an additional 300,000 children and pregnant and nursing mothers in need of specialized nutrition interventions according recent UN reports.

Looking Toward the Recovery

Davis underlined that once the drought comes to an end, it is important that the recovery phase immediately begin. CRS is currently preparing to do a seed assessment, to gauge if farmers have seed stocks remaining that are ready to plant, and what types of seeds those are. During extended periods of drought, often people resort to eating the seeds they would have been able to plant later, and so deplete their seed stocks.

CRS plans to organize seed voucher fairs, where farmers can redeem vouchers for seeds of their choosing on the local markets, as well as direct seed distributions where seed supplies are extremely limited. Some seeds will be for crops such as chickpeas, which are drought-resistant and mature quickly. In addition, CRS aims to provide feed for livestock as appropriate, as well as drill substantial boreholes to tap into water supplies far below the ground’s surface. CRS and the local Church have a fleet of five rigs to undertake this sort of major drilling work.

El Niño Across the Horn of Africa

El Niño is having a drastic impact across the wider Horn of Africa, including:

In Somalia: In Somalia too the rains were poor, starting but coming to a sudden and early end. Cereal harvests were limited and malnutrition is increasing, especially in camps for people displaced by conflict. However, severe flooding is expected toward the end of the year, replicating weather patterns that have been seen in previous El Niño periods.

In Kenya: again, drought conditions have prevailed but flooding is expected toward the end of the year, especially in the isolated northwest regions. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria and Rift Valley fever, which affects livestock but can also be transmitted to humans, are expected to increase.

In Sudan: in most of Darfur, there has been a significant lack of rainfall, while in some parts of Darfur and Kordofan, rainfall is expected to suddenly be heavy, resulting in flooding. Livestock losses have also been substantial. CRS is providing emergency food assistance to some 300,000 people and is supporting ongoing disaster preparedness work.

In South Sudan: the rains started early and then stopped, resulting in widespread failure of crops, including maize, groundnut and vegetables. Livestock are dying for lack of water and fodder. CRS works with USAID in South Sudan in a program that shifts between emergency and recovery work according to needs, and at present the focus is on providing food assistance and seeds and tools to people so they can recover from the effects of El Niño.

El Niño is also affecting the most vulnerable communities worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa is being hit particularly hard.

For more information on our policy recommendations, read El Niño and Its Human Toll: A Policy Brief.


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, please visit or and follow CRS on social media: Facebook, @CatholicRelief@CRSnewsYouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.

It has now barely rained for the entire year.More