Emergency Operation Ethiopia 6218: Relief Food Assistance to Victims of Natural Disaster



WFP food cost
US$ 58,448,281
Total cost to WFP
US$ 136,835,424
Total cost
US$ 136,835,424
Number of Beneficiaries
2.3 million
Nine months (1 April - 31 December 2000)


Socio-Economic context

2.1. Ethiopia is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 172 out of 174 according to the latest UNDP Human Development Report. The population is estimated at over 60 million and is growing at a rate of 3.1 percent per annum. GDP per capita is estimated to be only US$ 100, with approximately 50 percent of the population living below the poverty line. The situation is particularly difficult in rural areas as evidenced by the rural urban gap in meeting basic needs: 86 percent of the population live in rural areas, of whom only 20 percent have access to safe water, compared to 80 percent in urban areas; 1 percent has access to sanitation compared to 60 percent in urban areas. Other indicators of development show Ethiopia to be below the average for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with a literacy rate of 33 percent compared to 50 percent for SSA, while 47 percent of children under 5 are under weight compared to 32 percent for SSA. Agriculture continues to dominate the economy of the country, contributing 51.5 percent to GDP and providing, directly or indirectly, about 85 percent of employment.1 Any benefits from the limited GDP growth which the country may have experienced in recent years have not trickled down to those most in need, and prospects for growth at the present time are limited by recurrent natural disasters and soil degradation.

2.2. Food availability in Ethiopia has been consistently below requirements for the last two decades, with per capita food grains availability around 135 kg per year, and daily kilocalorie consumption at around 1750, or about three-quarters of the total nutritional requirement. Food insecurity has remained chronic in various parts of the country because of both limited availability and access to food. Drought prone areas such as Tigray, Wello and Hararghe are most severely affected by food insecurity, but some of the high rainfall regions such as Arsi and highland Bale, have transitory food insecurity caused by weather factors. Erratic rainfall and unfavorable weather conditions are the major causes of fluctuating food supplies.

2.3. The country is faced with an alarming rate of soil erosion, and every year an estimated 1.5 to 2 billion tons of top soil is washed away. The resulting decrease in productivity further undermines efforts to promote food security. Farmers already operating at subsistence level cannot afford the luxury of allowing plots to lie fallow, and so continue to try and scrape an existence from increasingly impoverished and degraded lands, thereby exacerbating the problem. While government efforts to increase productivity through fertilizer application and use of improved seeds have had success in some areas, they are of only limited benefit on land that is already severely degraded.

2.4. Areas that already suffer from a high degree of chronic vulnerability have a weakened ability to withstand sudden shocks. As indicated in the two maps attached as annexes2 many areas of chronic vulnerability have been hit by a succession of shocks this year. The vulnerable people are no longer able to cope with the succession of poor harvests. Their coping mechanisms have already been severely weakened or exhausted. Assets, including livestock, have been sold or have died, and there are fewer wealthier community members from which to seek assistance. People have borrowed the maximum possible (in many cases providing part of their relief rations to those individuals who are acting as their guarantors for collateral), and may be further indebted as a result of having to pay back for the agricultural extension package of improved seed and fertilizer.

2.5. The situation regarding relief food aid in Ethiopia has varied considerably in the past five years as outlined in Table 1. 1999 marked growing need throughout the country with the beneficiary number tripling towards the end of the year. This deteriorating situation resulted in the extra-ordinarily high number of people requiring food assistance in the year 2000, reaching to almost 8 million people.

Table 1. Food Aid Situation 1995-1999

Initial FAO/WFP
Estimated Relief Food Needs
Final Revised Needs



Quantity Distributed as % of Estimated (D)=(C)(A)
Affected Population (mn)
Initial(E) Revised (F)
81 %
165 %
70 %
391,558 *
215 %
104 %

Sources for (B), (C), (E) and (F) are from the Government of Ethiopia Appeal Documents.

  • Estimated figure

2.6. In Ethiopia there are two agricultural production seasons: the main agricultural or meher season and the secondary or belg season. Meher crops are harvested from October through to December/January and belg crops are harvested before the end of August. The meher crop production normally accounts for 90-95% of annual national grain production. However, there are specific zones such as Northwest Shewa, South and North Wello, South Tigray, Oromia, North Shewa, Arsi, Bale and North Omo where the belg production contribution to the annual total is significant.

2.7. Since May 1998, a border dispute has been ongoing between Ethiopia and Eritrea, resulting in the displacement of civilian populations along the northern border area in Tigray and, to a lesser extent, along the northeastern border in Afar Region. Agricultural production has been reduced due to the loss of occupied area, and to insecurity along the Eritrean border areas from where considerable numbers of rural families have been displaced. In addition to loss in agricultural production, farmers in the north have also been negatively affected by the loss in cross border trade activities as a result of the ongoing conflict.

Meher Crop Assessment

2.8.According to the joint FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment carried out in November-December 1999, the pre-harvest forecasts for 1999 are 10.72 million tons of cereals and pulses; 0.67 million tons or 5.9 percent less than previous year’s adjusted post-harvest production of 11.39 million tons.

2.9. Meher crop performance in key affected areas was poor for a variety of reasons:

  • late onset of the rains delayed planting of seed by as much as one and a half to two months.
  • As a result, many farmers switched to planting short cycle crops, such as potato, barley and teff, which have a lesser yield;
  • poor land preparation (both qualitatively and in coverage) owing to the weak state of the farmers and oxen;
  • lack of tending and weeding crop stands due to significant out-migration of able bodied labour force in search of food;
  • lack of available seed;
  • unusually heavy rains in September which washed away young plants, in some cases two to three times. Excessive rainfall in northern parts of the country resulted in reduced crop yields, specifically in western Tigray, northwestern Gonder;
  • unseasonal hail throughout the summer months and in September which has damaged existing stands;
  • extensive hailstorm and frost damage, particularly in highland areas of Amhara, exacerbated the delay in crop maturity owing to late planting;
  • shortage of rains until September, particularly in the eastern zones of West and East Hararghe and Jijiga, followed by floods in some parts of West and East Hararghe and crop producing areas in southern Afar and Gambella;

2.10 The poor production forecast is particularly disturbing given that some farmers borrowed against the meher crop production or sold pre-harvest crops. For these farmers, a considerable part of the harvest will go to pay outstanding loans. The current food security situation of households is precarious and is further worsened by the fact that desperate farmers were obliged to eat immature green grains. Meher-harvest yields in many areas are significantly reduced, and4 assessment team members confirmed the decreased availability of food in households, as evidenced by empty storage containers. The effect of the above will be a prolongation of the hunger gap, the period between when meher harvest stocks are exhausted and belg harvest crops are ready, normally in June.

2.11 Traditional survival mechanisms of affected populations are to migrate in search of work, and to sell firewood or charcoal. These coping mechanisms were weakened by the continuing crisis (drought, excess rain, hail, frost, pest) causing an excess supply of labour and firewood or charcoal with consequent falling prices. Wage prices fell from 5 birr per day to 1.5 to 2 birr per day and in some areas labourers received only a meal.

2.12 According to NGOs and WFP food monitors in the field, populations in the worst affected areas are in a weakened condition with officials attributing deaths of children and the elderly to a lowered resistance owing to lack of sufficient food. Out-migrants from several isolated and inaccessible peasant associations reported deaths of vulnerable individuals, stating that some children had simply stopped moving which would suggest that death was directly linked to starvation.

2.13 Due to recent rains, pasture has improved and cattle in crop growing areas appear to be recovering although they are still skinny. An inter-agency assessment of pastoral areas, however, found that prices remain low because supply far exceeds demand.

2.14 The FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission that took place in November-December 1999 estimated that 6.5 million farmers in Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, SNNPR, Gambella, Dire Dawa, Harare and Asosa Regions are affected by the poor meher harvest, requiring food assistance for an average of six months.

Assessment of Pastoral Areas

2.15 An inter-agency assessment of the main pastoral areas of Ethiopia was carried out in November-December 1999 in conjunction with the FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment. The inter-agency assessment mission estimated that 1.3 million pastoralists in Somali and Afar Regions are affected by a prolonged drought, requiring food assistance for an average of four months. The main findings are illustrated below:

The four seasons in the pastoral areas are: gu, the main rainy season extending from late March to early June; hagaa, the dry, windy season between late June and early September; deyr, the small rainy season between late September and early December; and jilal, the hottest and driest season between late December and early March. According to reports from WFP food monitors, the situation is currently very alarming because pastoralists are now going into jilal having experienced a prolonged dry spell of about 30 months, including a failed gu rain in 1999 and delayed and erratic deyr rains. In Gode, a zone which is particularly badly affected,people compare the situation with that of the mid-seventies, twenty-five years ago.

Livestock are the backbone of a pastoralist society providing milk, meat and serving as a financial reserve for the population. In an average year, the deyr rains are sufficient to replenish water resources and regenerate grazing land for the well-being of the herds, allowing 5 pastoralists to manage their herds for the duration of the jilal dry season. This year, however, both the urban and rural populations in many parts of Somali Region will be unable to withstand the current jilal since they are already in a weakened condition. Lack of rainfall has resulted in lack of pasture, and subsequent animal deaths. In some areas, such as Gode zone, it is estimated that as much as 90% of the cattle and 70% of the goats and sheep have died. It is likely that the few cattle remaining will not survive until the next gu rains. The magnitude of the loss has serious long-term implications as people’s livelihood system, and hence cash earning potential, is being completely wiped out. In most pastoral areas, people no longer have livestock to sell. For those who do, negative terms of trade work against them, with the price of cereals (an essential part of the nomadic diet during the dry season) increasing and livestock prices falling dramatically; the latter due to surplus on the market and the deteriorating condition of the animals.3

WFP field monitors have reported villages being abandoned as women and children migrate to the main towns. Reports mention the weak dying along the way, while men and boys have gone with the remaining herds (usually camels) in search of distant pasture. Limited grazing and water have lead to conflicts in some areas, particularly when herders have had to go beyond their normal range. The potential for conflict also exists in urban areas as town sizes have swelled with the influx of migrants, bringing with it fear of infectious diseases owing to the higher concentrations of people, coupled with inadequate sanitation.

People are suffering from a variety of diseases (measles, malaria, tuberculosis, bloody diarrhea) exacerbated by poor nutritional status, but are not using the health centers because they have no money to pay for the services or drugs. Nutritional studies undertaken by NGOs including MSF, Action Contre la Faim, SCF/UK and SCF/US in January, February and April 1999 in different zones in Somali Region4 indicated rates of severe malnutrition (WFL < 70%) ranging from 0.5% to 4.6%, and moderate malnutrition (WFL < 71-80%) varying from 4.9% to 20.7%, depending on the area. A nutritional study conducted in December by SCF/US in Gode, indicated that 79% of the children were < -2SD (minus two standard deviation) weight for age, and that over 74% of the mothers interviewed were moderately and severely undernourished as measured by their middle upper arm circumference.

Food Outlook

2.16. Combined with the total failure of belg harvest and the drought situation in pastoral areas, the overall forecast for the 1999 crop season looks grim. The FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission which visited Ethiopia in November-December 1999 estimated that 7.8 million people would require about 764,500 mt of emergency food aid in 2000, including pastoral areas but excluding internally displaced people in the north.


3.1. On 21 January 2000, the Government of Ethiopia’s Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) launched an appeal for 898,936 mt of cereals. This appeal included food requirements for the internally displaced which explains the difference in figures compared with the FAO/WFP assessment.

3.2. Since 1993, in accordance with its National Policy on Disaster Prevention and Management, the Government has been attempting to link short-term relief efforts to long-term development by channeling a significant proportion of relief resources to beneficiaries through employment generation schemes (EGS) and the balance through free food distribution (FFD). It should be noted that EGS is above all a channel to distribute relief food to people affected by crop failure. Free food distribution is generally restricted to the most critical periods of a disaster when it may not be possible to activate EGS activities and to vulnerable groups, including pregnant and nursing women, the elderly and the disabled who in any case are not able to participate in EGS activities.


1 All statistics are taken from the UNDP - Human Development Report Ethiopia, 1998”, published in December 1998.
2 Maps are not available in electronic versions of this document.
3 EUE & Multi Agency Mission Reports on Gode Zone, Somali Region, December 1999.
4 Jijiga, Dollo, Gode, Korahe and Warder.

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