Djibouti + 4 more

East Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 30 March

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ETHIOPIA: 'Belg' failure deepens food crisis
In January, the government launched its largest food aid appeal since 1992 for eight million people affected by drought and displaced by the conflict with Eritrea. Yet, already, with the 'belg' rains due in February and early March having failed almost completely, the number of people in need of food aid is expected to rise again, possibly to 10 million, the NGO Save the Children Fund (SCF) reported on Monday. "People are more vulnerable to food shortages today than they were at the time of the 1984-'85 famine," it added. The two areas particularly badly affected are the highly-populated northern and eastern highlands, including North and South Wello, South Tigray, North Shoa, East and West Hararghe. In the south, Konso, Derashe, Burji and North Omo are especially vulnerable, USAID's Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) reported on Tuesday. There is "an advanced emergency" reported in Gode and other parts of Somali Region, and in the Borena and Bale zones of Oromiya Region.

There are already "a significant number of deaths, certainly in the hundreds" being recorded in the Somali zone and other southern parts of Ethiopia, according to humanitarian sources. Hugh Palmer, director of the Bureau of Humanitarian Response at USAID was moved to order an urgent airlift of 25 mt of high-energy food (from an overall pledge of more than 400,000 mt of food) after seeing the situation in southern Ethiopia last week, and hearing from health officials how 53 children under five years had died in one week in Gode alone. "The dimensions of the food crisis in Ethiopia now appear to be growing larger, and the problems greater. The opportunity to avert a massive human disaster now rests even more precariously upon the ability of government and donors to not only fund and carry out the current emergency efforts, but to expand them to meet needs that are substantially greater and more urgent," FEWS warned on Tuesday. Early analysis of the potential impact of the total failure of the 'belg' rains suggested that food aid requirements could rise from 836,000 mt to almost 1.3 million mt, it added.

ETHIOPIA: War limits government's ability to cope - SCF

Recurrent drought, shrinking farm sizes, reduced employment opportunities and the erosion of community coping strategies have left an increasing number of people vulnerable but certain structural problems worsen the situation considerably. With most major food shipments not due until June, the drop in Ethiopia's Emergency Food Security Reserve to around 60,000 mt - substantially less than a single month's distribution - was a serious concern, the SCF report said. In addition, the war with Eritrea had had "a dramatic impact on food security" by diverting trucking capacity and increasing costs; denying access to the Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab, thus establishing a dangerous over-reliance on Djibouti; and denying rural households their traditional supplementary income sources in Eritrea and western Tigray, SCF added. There was serious doubt about Ethiopia's capacity to move the 120,000 mt of food aid per month envisaged this year, particularly if the war - currently in a lull - flares up again, it said.

ETHIOPIA: Over 100,000 hectares hit by fire

Almost a sixth of the 580,000 hectares of virgin forest in Bale and Borena zones in Oromiya Region, southern Ethiopia, have been burnt or are still burning in multiple blazes, according to an emergency update from the Global Fire Monitoring Centre. The fires were quite patchy and not all areas within the forest path were fully burned, but an estimated 100,000 hectares were fire-damaged, it said. Analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery would be needed before precise data was available, it added. The southern parts of the fire-affected areas have received little or none of what rain has fallen in the past week, and major fires are still reported to be burning in Mada Wellabo and Nensabo (Bale zone) and in Shakiso (Borana zone), the report said. Official statistics for Bale zone as of 23 March indicated that 53,000 hectares had been burned, with 43 houses destroyed and over 5,000 beehives lost. The fires are believed to have been started by farmers clearing land or honey collectors smoking bees from trees.

[For daily analysis and monitoring of the Ethiopian fires, see: http://www.uni-freiburg.de/fireglobe]

SOMALIA: IGAD backs Guelleh peace initiative

The regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on Monday adopted a resolution supporting Djibouti's peace plan for Somalia, which calls for a national reconciliation conference in April to establish a transitional administration. IGAD foreign ministers - from Djibouti, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea - agreed to support the Djibouti government's 20 April to 5 May conference for peace in Somalia, the official Sudanese agency SUNA on Tuesday quoted Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail as saying. The conference aims to establish a Somali parliament, which would then elect the president and prime minister of the republic, and form a Somali government, it said. An international conference to attract international aid for stability and development would be convened after the opening of parliamentary sessions, scheduled for the end of May, Ismail added.

SOMALIA: Key constituencies reject Djibouti conference

The leader of the Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA), Hassan Mohamed Nur 'Shatigudud', said on Monday that the allied Digil and Mirifle (Rahanwein) clans, dominant in south-central Somalia, were withdrawing their support for the Djibouti initiative. 'Shatigudud' said they deemed it unacceptable to participate in talks with "the forceful occupiers of (their) ancestral land, who killed, tortured and intimidated innocent civilians" and that Guelleh's plan was "unrealistic and a waste of time," AFP reported. Puntland also rejected the process last week, saying the Djibouti conference was essentially no different from the 1991 Djibouti reconciliation plan, which Puntland blamed for originally triggering Somalia's civil war. Puntland said it had refused to take part because Puntland opposition elements had been courted while the administration's own proposals were ignored, the BBC reported. The president of the self-declared state of Puntland, Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf, has banned public demonstrations amid a popular groundswell of opinion in favour of Djibouti, and the administration has detained people suspected of organising such events, Somali media reported.

Somaliland, the other self-declared autonomous state, in the northwest of Somalia, has also rejected Guelleh's plan. In a statement broadcast on the official Radio Hargeysa on Tuesday, it clearly stated that "it will not attend the Djibouti meeting or any other meeting" because the conference was intending to reconcile "the southern warring factions" and did not concern Somaliland, an independent and peaceful state. Somaliland would have no objection to holding dialogue on issues of common interest with whatever national government was established in the south, it added. The statement warned the panel of some 50 Somali scholars currently working on modalities for the Djibouti conference not to get their priorities wrong by insisting on Somaliland's participation. Somaliland and Puntland were the stable 'building blocks' around which IGAD and the international community had envisaged constructing a new, decentralised Somali state.

[see IRIN Special Report on Somalia - Are "building blocks" the solution? at http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN/cea/countrystories/somalia/19990719.htm]

SOMALIA: Libya denies having parallel process

Meanwhile, Libya has categorically denied claims by warlord Hussein Aideed that it would be organising a separate conference on Somalia on 6 April. "Libya supports efforts being made by Djibouti regarding Somalia" and there was no basis whatsoever for Aideed's claim, the Somali newspaper 'Xog Ogaal' quoted a statement from the Libyan embassy in Djibouti as saying. Aideed has said he will take no part in Djibouti, but the position adopted by elders at a conference of his Hawiye clan - expected to be held in the coming week - will be much more telling for the Djibouti process, regional observers told IRIN.

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: 'Proximity talks' postponed

The 'proximity talks' on the subject of the technical arrangements for the OAU peace plan failed to transpire on Friday 24 March, delayed by Eritrea's insistence on clarification in advance of the format for discussions and specific issues to be addressed. In a statement issued by the cabinet, Eritrea expressed its willingness to cooperate in ongoing OAU efforts to establish peace but demanded, "in order to ensure the success of the new round of efforts," that "the specific issues for discussion as well as the format and modalities of the discussion must be fully clarified in advance." It also insisted that the OAU should officially announce that the technical arrangements, "which had been submitted as non-amendable," were now open for discussion by both sides.

ERITREA: Assab considered as aid corridor for Ethiopia

Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki has agreed in principle to allow food aid for Ethiopia to be shipped through the Eritrean port of Assab, despite the countries being at war. The Eritrean foreign ministry on Friday stated that Isayas had responded positively to a request from Hugh Parmer, Assistant Administrator of USAID, to consider allowing Assab be used because the ports of Djibouti and Berbera (Somaliland) would not have adequate capacity for the scale of assistance needed, especially in the months of peak need from July through to September. Assab has considerably more capacity and also has the advantage of geographic proximity. Eritrea "would not, in principle, object to the proposal because of its moral obligation to assist in the international relief efforts to prevent a human catastrophe," the Eritrean statement said. However, Asmara would request "clear guarantees that the assistance reaches the intended beneficiaries and is not otherwise diverted by the regime for its war purposes," it added. The next step, if Assab were to be used, would be to have the UN make a formal request to Eritrea, and to establish a technical committee to work out the details, a USAID official told IRIN.

ERITREA: US renews food aid

Parmer also pledged 37,000 mt of food aid and $1.8 million of assistance in non-food items to Eritrea for drought-affected and war-displaced people. That commitment follows the waiving by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice in December of a US injunction that prohibited food relief to Eritrea. That had been in place since Eritrea's seizure at Assab, in June 1998, of a shipment of US food aid bound for Ethiopia. The authorities in Asmara had since accounted for the food appropriated at Assab and, after a review, Rice decided to again allow the commitment of humanitarian assistance to Eritrea, a USAID official told IRIN on Thursday. The drought and food security situation in Eritrea was not as immediate or severe as in southern Ethiopia, but the situation was still being examined in an attempt to gauge how many people were critically affected, he added. The UN consolidated appeal for Eritrea reported a target population of 583,660, or almost a fifth of the population, comprising 371,910 war-affected and 211,750 drought-affected people. The war-affected population includes internally displaced people (IDPs), rural deportees (from Ethiopia) and host communities especially affected by the influx of IDPs.

DJIBOUTI: Hardline FRUD leader returns from exile

Ahmed Dini, president of the hardline, armed faction of the Afar Front pour la Restauration de l'Unite et la Democratie (FRUD) returned to Djibouti on Wednesday morning after nine years in exile, Agence France Presse reported. The return from Yemen of Dini follows a peace deal between the government and FRUD in February which provided for a cessation of hostilities, a general amnesty for all FRUD combatants in exile, and the liberation of prisoners held by both sides, it added. FRUD was launched as a rebel movement in 1991 by the Afars - the country's second largest community, living mainly in the northern half of the country. One faction made peace and a coalition with the government in 1994, while Dini's FRUD "combattant" remained committed to armed resistance.

[ENDS]

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