By: Melissa Rary, Media & Communications Intern
With effects of climate change becoming more prominent, it is important to examine what climate change will mean in terms of human rights and the impact on the most vulnerable populations. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasizes “increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases” as a few of the many adverse effects resulting from climate change. Moreover, these issues threaten the enjoyment of the most basic rights including right to life, water, food, sanitation, among many others.
Ethiopia, a country with over 80% of its population living in multidimensional poverty, is no beginner when it comes to dealing with famines. The Ethiopian Civil war began with a coup d’etat in 1973, which was largely a result of unrest after Emperor Haile Selassie refused to respond to the 1972 famine. In 1984, Ethiopia suffered a worse, more publicized famine, which is said to have killed over a million people. International initiatives were able to secure international aid, but political instability into 1991 led to lower rates of development as compared to its other Sub-Saharan neighbors. In the midst violence, a large sector of the Ethiopian population was lost, and the Ethiopian economy collapsed as a result of the government’s resistance to welcome international aid in rebel-controlled areas. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was established in 1991 and was followed by a shift in Ethiopia’s resistance to international aid, ultimately jumpstarting the upwards trend of development.
With a climate prone to drought, underdevelopment is amplified by climate change shocks. While this has encouraged the government to look at green growth plans, Ethiopians remain vulnerable to issues such as drought and land availability, which creates decreasing health measurements due to malnutrition, unsanitary living conditions, and less financial availability to receive health services needed for survival. Many areas of Ethiopia are currently experiencing droughts comparable to the Ethiopian drought of 1984. Droughts affect crop production as well as livestock production. For rural households, a bad harvest might mean exacerbated food insecurity or having to sell productive assets in order to provide for basic needs. Furthermore, the Ethiopian economy is highly dependent on agriculture, up to 45%, which means increased drought could have adverse effects on the country’s economic well-being.
Ethiopia remains in a vicious cycle which sparked years of political discontent in the 1970s: its climate is prone to drought, famines are becoming increasingly common due to climate change, with an undernourished population there is decreasing food production, and with less food production the economy cannot grow as the rate of other regional competitors. Just last month, USAID deployed its Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Ethiopia in hopes of averting the current drought crisis. Such a high profile move highlights that the international community is not doing enough to mitigate or provide adaptive strategies to climate change.
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