Mercy Corps Country Director for Ethiopia warns of ‘devastating impact’ of El Niño on climate-vulnerable regions 

By Hannah Terry

The recent announcement by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirming the arrival of El Niño has raised concerns about the potential catastrophic consequences in climate-vulnerable regions already affected by drought and floods. Mercy Corps’ (a member of The Hague Humanity Hub) Ethiopia Country Director Melaku Yirga has highlighted the risks faced by regions such as the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia.  

Oxfam explains El Niño as “a periodic heating to the eastern tropical Pacific, which alters weather patterns globally and is pushing people already suffering from the effects of climate change deeper into poverty and making them more vulnerable.”  

Melaku has particularly emphasised the challenges posed by El Niño to the Ethiopian lowlands, which are only just starting to recover from the worst drought in generations, and are affected by conflict in neighbouring Tigray Region. The area has faced five consecutive failed rainy seasons, resulting in immense suffering and livestock losses. “According to estimates by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), the rainy season and subsequent flooding have already led to the loss of over 70,000 livestock.”  

The arrival of El Niño brings the additional burden of further drought conditions and extreme temperatures, exacerbating the pressure on already depleted livelihood assets and mechanisms for coping with climate change. While the recent heavy rains brought some relief to drought-affected areas, they also caused widespread flooding, destroying crops and irrigation infrastructure, further worsening the situation. 

The arrival of El Niño means that communities living in lowland areas now have to brace themselves for the onset of further drought conditions and extreme temperatures” -Melaku Yigra. 

As the Ethiopian government struggles to respond to the humanitarian needs of its people in the face of this crisis, development initiatives have taken a backseat. The magnitude and complexity of the situation have overwhelmed the available resources.  

Melaku was asked to speak at the Wilson Centre, highlighting the disruptive potential of the upcoming El Niño and discussing strategies for countries and communities to prepare for and mitigate the repercussions of this weather phenomenon.  

Mercy Corps has been at the forefront of tackling climate related challenges and their knock-on effects on issues like development and conflict. Mercy Corps actively engages affected communities, working towards minimizing the impact of phenomena such as El Niño and fostering resilience in the face of a changing climate. 

You can read more about the June 13 event and hear Melaku Yirga’s remarks here. For more information about Mercy Corps and their work check out their website.  

Photo by Juanita Swart on Unsplash