DFID information note on the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, Jan 2003

  1. The current situation in Ethiopia is a matter of deep concern, and prospects for this year are potentially very serious. This note briefly introduces the current situation and DFID's responses since the beginning of 2002.

2. At the start of 2002, the Government of Ethiopia and the United Nations did not produce a Consolidated Annual Appeal for Ethiopia, as has happened in the past. Instead, each individual UN body issued its own Appeal. At the beginning of 2002, the overall figure for people in need of relief was 5.9m, and the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) sought 427,000 metric tonnes of food aid.

3. Signs of particular additional problems appeared around June/July. These were centred on Afar region and some of the neighbouring areas, where the majority of the population have traditionally led a pastoralist lifestyle and much of their food and income derives from husbandry of livestock. The main cause is poor rains, which led to a substantial reduction in pasture for livestock and lack of water for both human and animal consumption. This resulted in livestock death and deteriorating health conditions, for both humans and the animal population. The situation has been aggravated by ethnic conflict, which has considerably reduced access to water and grazing land to pastoral communities, and is itself exacerbated by competition for scare resources.

4. Concerns grew as government and UN early warning systems began to predict a more widespread harvest failure across many parts of the country. Key factors are the poor and failed short rains earlier in the year and the delayed and insufficient main rains that damaged prospects for the November 2002 harvest. Substantial livestock deaths have been reported.

5. On 7 December, a joint Government-UN appeal was launched for humanitarian assistance in 2003. The appeal identifies 11.3 million people as needing more than 1.4 million metric tonnes of food assistance and places a further 3 million under close monitoring. Such massive need has resulted from the impact of widespread drought on a highly vulnerable population with little capacity to cope with shocks.

Food Pipeline

6. While the World Food Programme considers that current food aid pledges are sufficient to meet needs until the end of this month, there are concerns about prospects after that.

7. In late November the British Ambassador accredited to Djibouti held talks with Port Authorities in Djibouti (main access for food aid imports to Ethiopia). The port appears to be working well and is reportedly capable of a throughput of some 300,000 tonnes per month.

8. One of the key elements in the pipeline is the role played by the Ethiopian Food Security Reserve (EFSR). This is a "dynamic" grain reserve, with levels constantly fluctuating. If there are sufficient stocks in the reserve, food can be released and distributed as soon as donor commitments are made (i.e. there is normally no delay between donor commitment and food being distributed). 'Borrowing' donors then re-pay the EFSR through the local purchase of grain, international purchase or in-kind donation of grain (principally from the US).

9. The EFSR has a theoretical maximum capacity of 407,000 metric tonnes (MTs), though in practice physical storage facilities limit this to around 307,000 MTs. The levels tend to fluctuate between 100,000 and 300,000 MTs, the low point typically occurring in January. In terms of time for repayment of grain to the EFSR, WFP estimate that the international purchase of grain takes about 2 months from confirmation of pledge to delivery at Djibouti for, say purchase from India; a little longer if purchased in Europe, and if shipping from the US, about 4 months. Whilst usually the route of choice for DFID, local purchase can also take some time, and availability of food for local purchase this year is likely to be limited.

What has been done by the UK:

i) Longer term

10. Since the end of the war with Eritrea in 2000, we have been building up a development partnership with Ethiopia. The basis of this engagement is Ethiopia's own Poverty Reduction Strategy, which demonstrates how Ethiopia plans to prioritise resources and policies towards tackling poverty. We hope to move to the provision of a multi-year programme of direct budget support in the near future, along with some technical cooperation in certain areas. One of the main focal points of this programme is the long-term problem of food insecurity. Through joint efforts with the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) and key donors we are helping tackle some of the underlying causes of food insecurity. For example, we will contribute to improvements in agriculture sector policies and support efforts to increase people's access to markets through improvements in rural transport infrastructure. We will also help to reduce the vulnerability of the poor to drought by promoting the development of safety nets for the predictably food insecure. As one of the most vulnerable groups, pastoralists are an important target group for our work.

11. Other planned areas for focus are Capacity Building and Education; we are also active in support to tackle HIV/AIDS and support to the road sector, which will also help reduce rural poverty. More information is available in our Country Assistance Plan, which sets out our plans in detail. We are holding Development Talks with the Government on 14 January at which we expect to agree the final version, which will then be published.

ii) Short term

12. DFID has been continuously monitoring the effects of drought in Ethiopia and playing our part in relief efforts. In order to help ensure 2002 needs were covered in a timely way, in early 2002 we provided £3m to the ICRC for their work, and after monitoring the situation we provided a further £2m to ICRC in July. In March we contacted the UN Emergencies Unit in Ethiopia (UN-EUE) about the various UN Agency Appeals. We then contributed a total of some £2.3m to WFP for food relief, employment generation schemes and early warning schemes covering Tigray, Amhara, Southern Region and Somali region. We also contributed a total of over £800,000 to UNICEF for humanitarian support and mine risk education, and supported work done by WHO, UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia and UNDP to a total of £900,000. In response to the emerging situation in Afar, we provided a further commitment of some £500,000 to UNICEF for humanitarian support for Afar in August.

13. In September we committed a combined total of some £2.6m to the NGOs SCF-UK, Oxfam, GOAL, MSF Belgium and MSF Switzerland for work in the Amhara, Somali and Afar Regions of Ethiopia. In December we committed a further £1 million to CARE International UK for emergency drought relief in Oromiya region.

14. We are continuing to keep the situation under review, using the reports and assessments made by the Government and international agencies involved. We have also been involved in the frequent in-country dialogue on the humanitarian situation between the Ethiopian Government, other donors and non-governmental organisations. Overall, the main rainy season ended on time having started late. The harvest is now in, and early indications are that it is some 21% down on average. Recent nutritional data indicates unusual levels of malnutrition for this time of year.

15. On the basis of our continuous monitoring and using information from a wide range of sources, we decided that a further substantial UK bilateral humanitarian contribution would be timely. We therefore made a further £15 million available for food-aid through the UN World Food Programme. This contribution should continue to help allow greater certainty about food supplies in the months ahead and thus avert a crisis. We hope it will also encourage others to act.

16. However, as reiterated by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during the appeal launch on 7 December, no one anticipates a repeat of the suffering experienced in 1984. Lessons have been learned since 1984 and effective mechanisms put in place. Among other things, these underline the need for peace. In 1984 a state of civil war existed in Ethiopia, impeding the international communities' ability to direct available resources to relief. Important lessons were learned about the importance of effective coordination and early warning. The Early Warning System and GoE's Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission (DPPC) are now in place. In contrast to the situation in 1984/85, government, donors and non-governmental organisations now routinely work together to co-ordinate relief efforts and continuously improve the response system.

17. Finally, almost 20% of the EC support is funded by the UK. In 2002 this included an October commitment of €23m for food; and €4.2m for other relief. In December the Commission made a pledge of an emergency food aid programme worth €70m, which is equivalent to about 260,000 metric tonnes of cereals to help meet requirements for the first half of 2003.