Oxfam International has mounted an emergency response to the crisis in the Somali and Borena regions in south east of Ethiopia. A sustained drought has resulted in food shortages across the country but the situation in Somali region has deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks. This could be the beginning of a crisis across the whole of Ethiopia and the international community is yet to make an adequate response to this year's UN Appeal. Food reserves are very low and Oxfam has been forced to suspend a distribution in northern Ethiopia because food is not available
Nick Roseveare, Oxfam's Emergency Co-ordinator for the region said, "The crisis in south east Ethiopia is serious and we expect it to get worse. It may mark the beginning of a crisis for the whole country if there is widespread failure of the rains. We are concerned because while alot of food has been pledged to Ethiopia its arrival has been delayed and reserves in the country are very low. In addition, the UN Appeal for health and water assistance is desperately under funded. The world must move fast, get food in and give aid to avert a possible disaster."
Somali region should be experiencing rain now but it has not arrived. Oxfam field staff visited 6 of the 9 zones in the region and reported a severe lack of water and a prevalence of diseases often associated with malnutrition such as severe diarrhoea.
In Gode town, 500 children were admitted to an emergency feeding centre at the beginning of March. Death rates in the town are increasing and 45 children under the age of five are reported to have died in the last 20 days. There are serious water shortages with many wells empty or with just a little dirty water. Large numbers of people are on the move swelling the population of towns and villages. The population in one district of the Jigjiga zone has swelled by 40,000 people. Water is delivered by tanker and tightly rationed.
Oxfam has launched an initial response costing £80,000 aimed at improving the water supply by fixing boreholes and funding tankering of water. This is aimed at halting the spread of diarrhoea that can prove fatal for children and old people if they are seriously short of food. In addition, water can help sustain livestock, which are vital to the future of their families.
Conditions in the Somali region are symptomatic of the situation across Ethiopia. If the rains fail across the country, Ethiopia could be plunged into a crisis. It is estimated that one million tonnes of food aid would be required to respond to meet needs.