Ethiopia's escalating drought in the eyes of WFP, USAID

WFP Executive Director James Morris said Monday his four-day official visit to Ethiopia happened to be not planed with USAID's administrator Andrew S. Natsios but by coincidence.
Morris and Natsios paid a four-day visit to Ethiopia to review the escalating drought and the world's response to the humanitarian crisis, which threatens the lives of over 11 million people.

Accompanied with high-level government officials, both visited drought-affected areas in Arsi Zone Dodota Sire woreda and Hararge, east of the capital Addis Ababa where they saw severely affected victims of drought.

In a press conference both Morris and Natsios hosted after the visit, they said the gravity had turned out to be a serious problem unless needs were meet on time particularly in March, April and May and before the coming main rainy season June, July and August, when the rain will cut off remote areas from assistance.

Gravity of the crisis

According to Morris, the situation in the areas he had visited had "truly become a crisis and this is a serious problem." It would even get worse, according to him, if the world did not respond on time. "We still need substantial support from the donor communities," Morris said.

Natsios on his part said that students he met in Harrarge told him that they were eating once a day, which was three times eight months before. Emergency food aid was needed in these areas as soon as possible, according to him.

In Dodota Sire wereda in Arsi Zone, however, the situation seemed to be more serious. When approached by Addis Tribune, families and children said that they had not eaten anything since a couple of days as they had run out of maize stock, which was distributed to them a week before.

They said school dropouts were increasing and many residents of the area were suffering from a new type of disease, which had claimed the lives of six adults and two children. "It has been four years since we have started to encounter a serious food shortage. We could not endure this any more," said a mother carrying her three-year-old emaciated baby who looked like a six-month-old infant.

Assefa Boru, a middle-aged farmer, also told Addis Tribune that, even if emergency food aid was to meet and timely rain was likely to come either this month or in the main rainy season in June-July, it would be difficult for them to re-start farming as most of the residents had lost their livestock. "I lost my oxen last month. I don't have any means to plough my plot of land," he said.

Women have to walk a minimum of 6 hours a day to fetch water from the nearest river [Awash and Keleta rivers], according to them.

WFP said that there were no development interventions in the area compared with other weredas in the regions.

"The crisis barometer is inching out of the danger zone, but the needs are so colossal, so urgent and so desperate, we must do everything humanly possible to avoid a sudden slip downwards," Morris said adding that even a brief interrupting of food supplies could spell death for the most vulnerable.

Sharing his experience with people he met, Morris said that the villagers had told him stories of "sheer desperation," how they lost their entire crop, their animals and their seeds. "They are clinging onto the hope that more help will come before it is too late."

Pledges for More Support

According to WFP, Ethiopia needs to have 1.4 million metric tons of relief food this year. Out of the amount needed, only 700,000 metric tons have so far been pledged. WFD intends to cover about 40% of the country's food aid needs, and still requires 350,000 tons of food aid, including urgent supplies of fortified blended food for the malnourished and weak.

"The challenge for us today is how we can persuade the world to be more generous in making long-term investment in agriculture," Morris said.

The USAID had announced a new food aid pledge of 262,000 metric tons of food aid. The pledge, according to USAID, brings the total U.S. government food aid contribution to a total of 500,000 metric tons since July 2002.

"Despite a major drought in the U.S. and the fact that we are already addressing a number of food crisis around the world, which constraints our government from responding as robustly as we have in the past, president Bush is renewing our government's commitment of food assistance to the Ethiopian people," Natsios said.

He did not decline to reveal that the U.S had only been providing a small amount of agriculture development assistance as compared with humanitarian assistance.

"U.S. had spent 200 million USD to provide the 500,000 metric tons of food aid whereas it only spent 4 million USD for agriculture development. That is a very serious imbalance in the system", he said, adding that the U.S. had enough money to provide food aid but not enough money to provide assistance to agricultural development. "Agriculture has been neglected for too long by too many governments."

He, however, said that donors had set up a system whereby the most affected areas could get primary assistance. The system, Vulnerability Assessment Map /VAM/, according to Natsios, would help donors find out critical areas to be addressed on a timely-based response. "We need to continue to work on this and make sure that each shipment arrives on time. Time is the biggest enemy and is of critical importance," he said.

Ways Ahead

A sustained agriculture development and significant food security in Ethiopia was not an option but necessity, according to both Morris and Natsios.

"If we are to help break this chronic cycle of emergency, we simply must make major investment to help people withstand climatic shocks," Morris said, adding that it took so little money today to stimulate greatly improved lives for people tomorrow.

In a letter he delivered to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Natsios, on his part, stated that continuing reforms in food security policy, especially to promote more strategic use of food aid to overcome rural poverty, will help end the cycle of poverty and food insecurity. "More important for the long-term, however, is the need for urgent implementation of agricultural sector reforms by your government," he pointed out.

He had also stressed the linkages between food security and development issues. Natsios emphasized that the food security issue must be integrated with other development programs, including HIV/AIDS, democracy and governance.


Addis Tribune
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