Ethiopia + 2 more

Africa famine alert

The irony of natural disaster is sometimes too painful to comprehend. Even as Oxfam America and many other relief and development organizations have been rushing aid and rehabilitation relief to Mozambique in southern Africa because of an overabundance of water, northeastern Africa has seen no significant rain for 3 years.
Now, children and older adults are dying of famine in the Horn of Africa. Many more are at risk of dying. Up to 18 million people are living in drought-stricken regions of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and nearby areas. The worst areas are in Ethiopia, the Borena Zone in the Oromiya Region and Somali-Land Region in the south of the country and even including parts of the Tigray region in the north. These areas have received no viable rainfall for 3 years. Most of the regionís population is pastoral or pastoral/agricultural, depending on rainfall for natural vegetation for cattle and goats, as well as rain-fed crops.

People in the Horn of Africa are used to drought. Traditionally, when an area is too dry, they migrate to water. This process is beginning to happen now, as families have lost their herds, their children are beginning to starve, and they are walking long distances to feeding centers that are being set up by relief agencies. According to relief workers more than 1 million people in the highlands region are already dependent on aid for 60% - 70% of their food supplies. The numbers are growing daily.

Remembering the Famine of 1984 - Almost 1 million people died in Ethiopia 15 years ago because of drought, and experts report that the current conditions make that kind of nightmare possible yet again. Mike Delaney, Oxfam Humanitarian Relief Director, recently visited areas where Oxfam America has been working for many years. He reports that local observers believe the conditions to be worse now than they were in 1984-85. The animals are almost all dead ñ their corpses litter the countryside as grim reminders of how desperate the situation has become.

After the drought in the ë80s, the Ethiopian government and international community set up early warning systems to predict food shortages in this highly vulnerable region. In the last 10 years, the number of people affected by droughts and famines has declined by 80% due in part to better food programs and water projects. The Ethiopian government has initiated many emergency responses, a national grain reserve, trucking in water and moving food supplies to vulnerable areas.

But, the situation has now reached a crisis level, and the international community must respond immediately!

The Oxfam America Response

Oxfam America was one of the first NGOs to recognize the seriousness of conditions in Ethiopia and respond, both on the ground and over the airwaves. Mike Delaney, Oxfam America's director of Humanitarian Assistance Programs, visited the Yabello area in southern Ethiopia in February and immediately initiated an emergency grant to the region. This relief effort supports pond rehabilitation, water distribution, the supply of seeds for planting in case the rains come, and veterinary medicine. Oxfam is working with Action for Development (AFD), a non-governmental organization that we have supported since 1998. Through AFD, Oxfam already has been able to initiate the digging of new wells and trucking in of water. This initial grant is expected to benefit about 49,650 people in the Yabello region.

Upon his return from Ethiopia in February, Mike Delaney initiated a major plan of action designed to draw the worldís attention to the impending crisis. Oxfam America sent a film crew into Ethiopia in March, recognizing that visual evidence would help awaken the public to the seriousness of the conditions on the ground. This film was distributed to the press at a major press conference at the United Nations and represented some of the first coverage available on the crisis.

Looking Ahead

The international community must respond to the need for food, water, and medicines immediately to avert a serious large-scale famine. Over the long run, Oxfam America anticipates considerable investment will be necessary in Ethiopia to help people return to sustainable livelihoods. Several other Oxfam organizations are working in specific areas, as are the United Nations, Save the Children, and many other NGOs. Normally, it rains daily in April in this region, but as the drought continues, hope diminishes for planting the next crop. Without doubt, many millions of people in the whole Horn of Africa region will depend on outside aid for several months at a minimum.

As the rains return, people who have lost all their savings because their animals have died will need help getting started again. Oxfam America will continue to work in the regions where we have long-term partners, funding more wells, holding ponds, and water-security projects. In addition, we plan to introduce camels into many communities to provide transport and ploughing, and we will provide seeds and tools for the next planting.