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FEWS Bulletin AFR/00-03: Eastern Africa and the Horn

Originally published


The Current Crisis Worsens in Ethiopia
At the time of this report, the onset of the critical belg (secondary) rains was already 3 to 5 weeks late in highly and extremely food-insecure agricultural areas in Tigray, Amhara, Oromiya and SNNPR Regions. The second half of March is the last viable planting period for farmers to plant short-cycle belg crops. Large tracts of parched pas-toral areas in the SNNPR, Oromiya and Somali Re-gions continued, literally, to burn under extended dryness. If the belg rains do finally come in late March or early April, they could help to alleviate the harsh pastoral conditions that are devastating the herds and livelihoods of hundreds of thou-sands of pastoralists in these areas. Nevertheless, movements of Somali Region pastoralists towards food relief distribution points have already begun and will likely increase if rains do not arrive quickly.

The late onset of the rains in both the belg-farming areas and the southern and southeastern pastoral areas represents an immediate additional crisis for the relief effort now being implemented. Current estimates of national food aid require-ments assumed that the belg harvest would be av-erage and contribute approximately 250,000 MT of food to belg farmers, and that pastoral area water points and pastures would be regenerated by the rains. Already, the delay in planting will increase the relief requirements of belg farmers by 1 to 2 months of food needs (by as much as 50,000 MT), and more if the rains do not come at all. The im-pact of the delayed belg rains will also be felt in lost plantings and poor germination conditions for the main season long-cycle crops that should be planted during this period.

If the belg harvest fails completely, the dimen-sions of the crisis will expand quickly. Early analy-ses of the potential impact of a total failure of the belg harvest suggest that food aid requirements during 2000 could rise from 836,000 MT to almost 1.3 million MT. In the northern highlands (South Tigray, North Wello, South Wello and North Shewa), about 2 million people are highly dependent on the belg-season harvest of short-cycle crops. A har-vest failure would mean that most of these farm-ers would need food assistance from July until at least the end of the year. The case is similar in the southwestern farming areas (parts of SNNPR, in-cluding Konso, Derashe, Burji and North Omo). Al-though it is too early to predict if southern and eastern pastoral areas will receive April rains to re-generate water points and pastures and reduce food aid needs, it is clear that Ethiopia is already facing a scenario that is substantially worse than the current response was designed to handle.

The dimensions of the current food crisis in Ethiopia now appear to be growing larger, and the problems greater. The opportunity to avert a mas-sive human disaster now rests even more precari-ously upon the ability of Government and donors to not only fully fund and carry-out the current emergency efforts, but to expand them to meet needs that are substantially greater and more urgent.

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