Mitiku Kassa: Facing its worst drought in half a century, the country thwarted disaster and created a road map to respond to future climate emergencies.

By Amanda Little (Bloomberg Business) |

For Mitiku Kassa, catastrophe is just part of the daily grind. As Ethiopia’s commissioner of disaster risk management, he has confronted droughts, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and political upheaval. The trials of the job have helped him develop staunch optimism and resilient nerves, but in the summer of 2015 he was worried. “We were facing the worst emergency in Ethiopia in 50 years,” he says. The harshest drought in that time had begun to cripple the country’s agricultural lowlands. Famine, possibly biblical in scope, loomed. By August, more than 4 million Ethiopians were receiving emergency food rations: sacks of wheat, corn, and teff, a grain staple; crates of beans and peas; and jugs of vegetable oil. Soon officials were reporting that these supplies weren’t enough. Rains hadn’t come in almost a year, leaving rivers empty and groundwater overdrawn. Crop yields in some regions were cratering and cattle were dying by the thousands. Acute malnutrition among babies, children, and mothers was on the rise.

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In October, Mitiku Kassa’s team calculated that the number of people needing emergency food had doubled in two months, to 8.2 million, prompting the government to officially request humanitarian aid. By December, 10.2 million people needed food. He was also concerned about continuing to help the many chronically food-insecure Ethiopians who’d been receiving aid when conditions were stable. All told, Mitiku Kassa would have to feed more than 18 million people—nearly a fifth of the country’s population.

The logistics of rapidly disseminating so much aid in a country twice the size of Texas are mind-numbing. So is the challenge of paying for it.

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