Horndiplomat-United Nations envoy Mary Robinson has accused the international community of being distracted and preoccupied by events like Brexit as millions of Ethiopians suffer the worst drought in half a century.
The former president of Ireland hit out after being briefed on the devastating impacts of the El Nino weather pattern and climate change which has seen rains and harvests fail over the last year.
More than 10 million Ethiopians do not have enough food or are at risk of malnutrition amid concerns it could spiral into the worst food emergency in the region since the mid-1980s.
“I hope that the special envoys can make this problem more visible at a time when there are preoccupations about migrants in Europe, with Brexit, and conflict situations – there are a lot of distracting issues,” Ms Robinson said.
“I think there are a lot of problems of distraction.”
Ms Robinson said: “I don’t think that this real impact of El Nino aggravated by climate change has received the attention that it should have from the international community, not only early enough but substantive enough.”
Unicef said three million children have dropped out of school in Ethiopia because of the drought and failed harvests.
Ms Robinson, UN envoy for climate change and El Nino, is witnessing the devastation first-hand on a three-day trip with development agencies Trocaire, Concern and Goal.
The crisis is expected to be compounded later this year when the La Nina cooling weather pattern brings flash floods to the region.
Ms Robinson met Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros A Ghebreyesus in Addis Ababa as the country seeks €580m in aid to ease the crisis.
The minister said the donor response was initially slow.
“The problem is real and we have to do everything to address it before it is too late,” he said.
It is estimated that it takes 88 Ethiopians to emit as much carbon dioxide as one Irish person.
Mr Ghebreyesus said: “We are the victims of climate change.
“Although the whole world knows that, we have not contributed to the damage of our climate, nothing… we are the victims. We are the victims of it but we want to be part of the solution.”
Ms Robinson is urging governments to use the current crisis to create a blueprint to combat subsequent El Nino events and the impact of climate change.
The Ethiopian government is carrying out a new assessment of the latest harvests and how many millions of people require food aid.
The trip is Mrs Robinson’s first visit to Africa since being appointed to her role two months ago by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
She will also use it to brief the UN in New York on July 19 along with her colleague Macharia Kamau who has visited Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste.
The UN estimates that €3.4bn is needed to combat the impacts of the current El Nino crisis which is being compounded by climate change across Africa, Asia and in South and Central America.
Only €1.2bn has been pledged.