The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing a prolonged drought affecting mostly Somalia, northern Kenya, and south-eastern Ethiopia following the late and sub-optimal 2019 spring rains. As a result, crop planting was delayed, and pasture regeneration and replenishment of water sources did not materialize, further impacting the already dire food security and nutritional conditions of communities in those areas. In June, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Drought Snapshot for the Horn of Africa, the estimated number of severely food insecure people in Ethiopia alone was 7.9 million. In an effort to counter the effects of deforestation and climate change on the drought-prone country, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a one-day campaign to plant 200 million seedlings across the country on Monday, July 2019. By Monday evening, Ethiopia’s minister of innovation and technology, Dr. Getahun Mekuria, claimed that 353,633,660 tree seedlings were planted. The record-breaking mass tree-planting effort is part of a wider national plan – the ‘green legacy’ initiative – which aims to plant 4 billion trees by October 2019.
Rising global temperatures, caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide, enhance evaporation from soils, making periodic droughts worse than they would be under normal conditions. Droughts can persist through feedback loops where very dry soils and diminished plant cover can further suppress rainfall in an already dry area. The worsening climate crisis has made drought the new norm for the Horn of Africa region. According to scientists, planting trees is the biggest and cheapest way to counter the effects of climate change.
Planting trees is an effective measure to tackle climate change because as trees grow, they absorb and store the atmospheric carbon dioxide driving climate change. According to Farm Africa, Ethiopia’s forest coverage was just 4% in the 2000s, down from 35% a century earlier due to the rapidly growing population and the need for agricultural land, firewood consumption, and logging. The United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation estimates that global deforestation accounts for nearly 20% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Researchers estimate that planting billions of trees across the world has ‘the mind-blowing potential’ to remove two-thirds of all human-caused emissions in the atmosphere.
With the region’s rural communities already fragile, and the increasingly erratic rainfall patterns magnifying a vulnerability to climate-related shocks and food shortages, Oxfam makes an important reminder: “A climate crisis spiraling out of control has made drought the new norm in the region and is a reflection of global inequalities where vulnerable communities, who have done the least to create the climate crisis, face its most devastating impacts. The immediate humanitarian response must be matched with genuine commitment to addressing systemic causes of the crisis.”
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