Tackling climate change is a marathon and we need to aid front-line countries

Tackling climate change is not a sprint but a marathon we all need to be prepared for and it is vital we aid a country like Ethiopia that finds itself on the frontline, writes Sean Sherlock
Tackling climate change is a marathon and we need to aid front-line countries

ON SUNDAY the record-breaking athlete, Haile Gebrselassie, will run his last competitive race in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Haile has inspired many younger runners, including Alemu Gemechu who won the Dublin Marathon this year.

Forty thousand people, including hundreds of Irish enthusiasts, will run with Haile and each will wear the same green t-shirt bearing the slogan “I’m running for the planet”; showing solidarity and support for an international agreement on how to tackle climate change, to be negotiated in Paris at the end of the month.

Dealing with climate change is one of the great challenges for international development and poverty reduction. This year, large parts of Ethiopia are facing a drought, perhaps the worst in 30 years. It is being felt hardest by the millions of farmers who are dependent on rain-fed agriculture and harvests have been severely reduced, in some cases by almost 90%.

In Ireland, it can be devastating for farmers and their families when there is too little, or too much, rain. But nothing compares to the catastrophe that can befall sub-Saharan African countries when the rains fail.

The Ethiopian government believes that 8.2m people will need food assistance to the end of the year; up from an estimated 4.5m in August. The UN reckons that up to 15m people will need support in early 2016. An estimated 40,000 people have already abandoned their land. 200,000 livestock have perished.

Droughts are not new in Ethiopia and there is a lot we can learn from how they are dealing with climate change. Ethiopia has shown great leadership in putting in place long-term programmes which help farmers and rural families cope with the short-term (but often drastic) consequences of sudden climate shocks.

On my visits to Ethiopia I have seen for myself this leadership in action. Irish Aid has worked with the Ethiopian government to build a social protection system and humanitarian capacity so it can identify a crisis early and respond in a timely manner to protect the lives and livelihoods of those affected by drought and climate change.

This year alone, Ireland is providing over €26m through our bilateral aid programme in Ethiopia to address poverty, vulnerability and hunger.

One key intervention we support is the Productive Safety Nets Programme. This programme has provided food and/or cash to about 5m people this year to help them through the lean months ahead of the harvest. In 2016, 8m people will benefit. It is a collective effort involving not just Irish Aid but also the ministry of agriculture and many other international partners and, during our chairmanship of the programme last year, we succeeded in bringing a new focus to the programme on nutrition.

Irish Aid is also involved in many other long-term development projects, helping rural communities prosper across the country and contribute to climate resilient sustainable development. These include innovations in watershed management, crop rotation and the introduction of new technologies which can boost crop yields.

Ethiopia was the first least developed country to publish its national targets in advance of the forthcoming climate negotiations and, as world leaders turn their attention to the summit in Paris, the El Ni?no-induced drought which Ethiopia is currently enduring is a reminder that even the best prepared countries are vulnerable to climate change. Here again, Ethiopia has shown leadership in re-allocating domestic resources to meet the immediate needs of those whose crops have failed.

However, the Ethiopian government will not be able to close the gap on its own. As co-chair of the Development Assistance Group, which co-ordinates the work of Ethiopia’s 28 bilateral and multilateral partners, Ireland has been active in encouraging the international community to respond, and to respond early.

I believe an extra effort now will save lives and livelihoods and protect the long-term investments made in recent years.

Today, I am announcing a further €2m in humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, bringing Ireland’s total contribution to meeting the urgent needs of those affected by this devastating crisis to €5.5m this year.

In addition, we have provided €10.4m to the Productive Safety Nets Programme.

We will continue to closely monitor the situation as it unfolds and together with our NGO partners such as GOAL, Concern, Trócaire, Self Help Gorta, and Vita, will work to ensure that our assistance in 2016 reflects the needs on the ground.

Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most vibrant economies and timely intervention now will help ensure its economic growth and development gains are protected for future generations.

Tackling climate change is an urgent imperative. It is not a sprint. It is a marathon we all need to be prepared for.

Sean Sherlock is minister of state for development, trade promotion and North South co-operation

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