Sophie Gebreyes is Country Director of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Ethiopia and based in Addis Ababa.
Photo: Private archive


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Ethiopia has to cope with humanitarian crises year after year. Sophie Gebreyes, Country Director of the Lutheran World Federation, calls for a better link between disaster risk reduction concepts and emergency response to help people withstand shocks.

Rural 21: Ms Gebreyes, despite progress in poverty alleviation and hunger eradication, in the last two years, the world has seen a reversal in the trend towards food security, with the number of people suffering from hunger and the number of people in need of emergency assistance on the rise. What is the situation like in Ethiopia?

S. Gebreyes: As of February 2019, there are close to nine million – 8.86 million people, to be precise – needing humanitarian assistance and protection in Ethiopia. Out of these, 3.19 million, representing 36 per cent of the total number of people needing humanitarian assistance are internally displaced people, or IDPs, a situation that has earned Ethiopia the unenviable accolade of being ‘the country hosting the largest number of IDPs in the world’. While 3.19 million are displaced due to conflict-induced displacement, the remainder, an even higher number of people, are affected by recurrent climate-induced disasters including displacement.

What has the impact of these weather phenomena been like? And have you observed a worsening of the situation over the last few years?

Recurrent droughts and floods that are mainly due to El Niño and La Niña, two commonly experienced weather phenomena impacting Ethiopia, have repeatedly resulted in devastating impacts on rural livelihoods. While the two phenomena are natural cyclical occurrences that used to occur every eight to ten years, they now seem to happen every other year – 2016, 2017 and most probably 2019. The most severe impact is the recurring nature of the disasters, which do not allow enough time for people to recover and build resilience. The over five million people needing humanitarian assistance this year are residual caseloads from 2016 and 2017 droughts and floods, as 2018 was a relatively better year with normal seasonal rains.    

Against this background, an approach synthesising development, humanitarian and peace policies seems more than appropriate.

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