Ethiopia may face a major humanitarian challenge in the months ahead

Addis Ababa (April 3, 2000) - With the late arrival of the short (belg) rains the UN Country Team is becoming seriously concerned that Ethiopia may face a major humanitarian challenge in the months ahead. The crisis is expected to impact most severely on the chronically food insecure central and northern highlands of the country and the mainly pastoral lowlands of the south and southeast.
The belg season rains, which normally start around mid-February, are important for belg dependent farmers and crucial in replenishing ground water supplies, regenerating pasture and in preparing the soil ahead of planting for the main (meher) cropping season. A failure of this year's belg rains would mean yet further increases in the amount of food aid required by the country.

Also of grave concern is the situation in the pastoral areas, particularly the Somali National Regional State and Borena Zone of Oromiya Region. These areas have already suffered three successive years of poor to very poor rains and if the coming rainy season, normally expected to commence towards the end of April, does not materialize an already extremely precarious situation could rapidly become a major disaster. Already reports are emerging of drought affected people moving to the towns and refugee camps in the Somali region, placing an additional burden on health facilities and rapidly dwindling water supplies. UNHCR are concerned that existing sources of water for the Somali refugee camps may dry-up completely within a very short time if the rains do not start on time. A recent survey in Borena has revealed very high malnutrition rates and UNICEF are especially concerned that low immunization coverage places children at even more risk of measles and other diseases. Isolated cases of meningitis reported from Amhara and Tigray could become disastrous if wider outbreaks occur. By current official Government estimates 7.7 million people require relief food assistance this year, amounting to more than 836,000 metric tonnes. There are fears that the failure of the short rains could mean upwards of 1.3 million belg farmers will require continued relief assistance until December, and 600,000 (those who are completely dependent upon the belg and have no meher harvest) until June 2001. The implications of this would be a food relief requirement of possibly more than one million metric tonnes this year.

There has been a generally favourable response to the Government of Ethiopia's January appeal with just over 400,000 metric tonnes of food aid pledged by donors so far, including indications of a substantial increase in commitments from the US Government and a significant pledge of 100,000 metric tonnes from the Government of Ethiopia itself. Delayed shipments and increasing food insecurity, however, are combining to create a situation where substantial relief needs in some areas may not be met. To avoid the situation reaching crisis proportions, donors are urged to make additional food aid pledges and advance the shipment to the country of existing pledges to avoid congestion at Djibouti port and allow adequate pre-positioning of food aid at the more remote distribution centres prior to the start of the main rains in June/July.

According to UN Resident Coordinator Samuel Nyambi, food relief is not the only assistance needed by people living in the worst affected areas of the country: "While more food is urgently required, we are also extremely worried about the low response of donors to the other critical non-food aspects of the UN and government relief appeals. Farmers need seed to prepare for the coming main planting season and in the lowlands, where the impact of the drought is currently most acutely felt, there is a urgent need to provide water, emergency health supplies and provide support for livestock". Mr. Nyambi added that an early response from donors to these all-important sectors would not only be critical in averting a major crisis but also protect livelihoods and consolidate the gains made through development efforts in this country in recent years. The UN Country Team urges donors to seriously consider assistance in these sectors directed either through Government, Non-Governmental Organizations or the UN Country Team.


UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia
PO Box 5580
Addis Ababa

Tel: +251 1 513725
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