FEWS Ethiopia Food Security Emergency: 19 Mar 2003

On December 7, 2002, the Government of Ethiopia and the United Nations launched a joint appeal for over 1.44 million metric tons of food aid to feed 11.3 million people in 2003 due to rainfall shocks that worsened previously desperate conditions. A further 3 million people required close monitoring. On March 14, the Government and the UN raised these requirements to 1.46 million MT of food aid and $81.1 million of non-food assistance to reflect new needs in additional areas and worsening of needs in areas already being helped. Multi-agency teams led by the DPPC will reassess conditions on the ground to guide targeting these extra needs. People in parts of Afar, Tigray, Amhara, Oromiya and Somali Regions have reached near-famine conditions, an extreme collapse in local availability and access to food that could lead to widespread mortality from outright starvation or hunger-related illnesses. In addition, 2.1 million people are in critical need of water and 16.2 million children are in need of immediate vaccination against measles and distribution of Vitamin A capsules. While donor pledges since the January Emergency alert have enabled food aid distribution to the drought affected, a significant shortfall remains. In particular, supplementary blended food is in critically short supply. Essential non-food resources to improve food security -- seeds, animal health, water and sanitation and emergency health services for the drought affected -- are significantly under funded. Due to the insufficient response to date, ongoing food aid distributions have been thinly stretched. Very high rates of malnutrition persist in many areas. Some of these are already experiencing excess mortality. Actions now by the Ethiopian Government and donor agencies will determine whether these pre-famine conditions can be mitigated over the next several months -- or develop into a full-fledged famine.

Pre-famine Conditions Persist in Parts of Ethiopia

Compelling evidence indicates that people are facing pre-famine conditions in parts of Afar, Tigray, Amhara, Oromiya and Somali Regions, as well as pockets in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' (SNNP), Gambella, Dire Dawa and Harari Regions. According to indicators monitored by FEWS NET:

  • Recurrent droughts and poverty have increasingly eroded the capacity of most rural households in Ethiopia to withstand drastic declines in their incomes resulting from adverse weather and economic conditions.

  • Households whose livelihoods largely depend on crop and livestock production have suffered substantially reduced crop yields or near-total crop failure due to low and erratic rainfall during the last two consecutive rainy seasons (belg and meher), an unusual occurrence within the same year (Figure 1).

MAP - Figure 1. Meher Season Cereals and Pulse Production in 2002/03: Percent Decline from 2001/02, by Zone

  • The FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Ethiopia, in its report released on December 30, 2002, indicated that Ethiopia faces a massive food grain deficit of over 1.8 million metric tons in 2003, most of which needs to be filled through food aid, given the country's limited ability to import food commercially.

  • Widespread livestock deaths in Afar and Somali Regions that peaked between June and August 2002 have left many pastoralists and agro-pastoralists dependent on relief assistance for most of the year.

  • Grain prices have increased abruptly since May 2002 to substantially above-average levels, with a disproportionate impact on the purchasing power of already vulnerable groups. Unseasonably early increases in grain prices in some rural markets have already put food staples out of reach of poor households.

  • In cash crop producing areas in western, southwestern and eastern parts of the country, last year's coffee harvest is estimated to have declined by 20 to 30 percent due to the drought, adversely affecting the incomes of up to 15 million Ethiopians. Chat, a mild stimulant and a major source of cash income in parts of Ethiopia, has also been similarly affected.

  • Rural household resilience is weakening in the faced of frequent drought and inadequate assistance. Traditional livelihood coping strategies continue to weaken further as evidenced by increased sale of both non-productive and productive household assets (such as jewelry and plow oxen, respectively) and consumption of wild "famine foods," some of which are toxic unless prepared properly.

  • Migration of people from the countryside has increased the usual numbers of beggars and homeless in the cities.

  • Recent nutrition survey results and field reports are revealing deepening food crisis in previously identified areas and additional needs in emerging food crisis areas. If the short belg (March-May) rains prove to be poor, as predicted by the National Meteorological Services Agency (NMSA), further increase in emergency relief requirement can be expected as of July.

  • Despite ongoing food aid distributions, very high malnutrition rates persist in many areas (Figure 2). Global acute malnutrition (GAM) in children under 5 years exceeds 10 percent in many survey areas, indicating a "serious" situation that calls for adequate general rations, according to World Health Organization standards. GAM exceeds 15 percent in several zones of the country, a level considered "critical."

MAP - Figure 2. Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM), November 2002 to February 2003

  • In some of the worst drought affected areas for which nutrition data are available, crude and children under-five mortality rates exceed emergency levels of 1/10,000/day and 2/10,000/day, respectively.

  • Some of the drought-affected areas become inaccessible at the peak of the summer rains as of mid-July. Pre-positioning of approximately 80,000 MT of food aid to these areas is required in May and June until the areas become accessible again at the end of the rainy season in September/October.

Adequacy of the Response to Date

Donor food and non-food aid pledges against the December Appeal remain far short of requirements (Table 1). Pledges against non-food emergency relief requirements are critically low, thereby severely undermining the effectiveness of food aid interventions. This is reflected in the persistence of very high rates of malnutrition in many areas. Assuming accelerated delivery of already pledged food aid, available supplies will only cover needs through June, which coincides with the start of the hungry (lean) season in many areas. The Emergency Food Security Reserve is expected to run out at the end of April as more food aid grain is borrowed from the Reserve than repayments are made.

Table 1. Status of Emergency Relief Requirements and Pledges by Sector in 2003, as of March 14

Food Aid (cereals, blended food and vegetable oil)
1,461,679 MT
847,314 MT
618,890 MT (or 42%)**
Water and sanitation
US$ 20 M
US$ 5.5 M
US$ 14.5 M (or 73%)
Health and Nutrition
US$ 28.8 M
US$ 5.9 M
US$ 22.9 M (or 80%)
Agriculture and Livestock (seeds, animal health, etc.)
US$ 18.0 M
US$ 15.8 M
US$ 2.2 M (or 12%)
Capacity Building
US$ 5.6 M
US$ 1.3 M
US$ 4.3 M (or 77%)
US$ 7.7M
US$ 0.6 M
US$ 7.1 M (or 92%)

Source: UN Country Team Presentation, 14 March 2003.
*Revised figures based on reassessment of current needs. **The shortfall (60%) for blended food is critical.

Recommendations for Further Action

Relief interventions in many areas are inadequate to counter an impending humanitarian disaster. Given the severe shortfalls in food and non-food aid resources, FEWS NET recommends the following actions to help the country pull itself out of its present food crisis and begin the process of recovery:

  • The Ethiopian Government should contribute additional food aid from its own resources as it did in 2000 (100,000 MT) and 2002 (47,600 MT) as a sign of leadership and commitment to heading off famine.

  • The USG, EU and other donors, as well as the "non-traditional" food donors, should promptly make further significant food aid pledges to help Ethiopia overcome its current food crisis;

  • Donors should urgently make substantial pledges towards non-food emergency relief requirements, as shown in Table 1; and

  • Donors and NGOs intending to purchase food aid from surplus producing areas in Ethiopia should buy in phases and in maximum-size lots of 20,000 MT in order to prevent price hikes for consumers.

It is also clear that productive assets and viable livelihoods can only be restored by promoting longer-term development strategies and investments aimed at addressing the root causes of vulnerability to drought and food insecurity in Ethiopia. Accordingly, FEWS NET recommends that the Government and its development partners focus on addressing the core concerns of farmers: protecting security of land tenure, promoting water harvesting, diversifying rural employment and income opportunities away from agriculture in chronically drought prone areas, and enhancing growth linkages between high potential and drought-prone areas through mobility and employment, among others.

Without question, the sheer magnitude of Ethiopia's 2003 emergency food needs appears daunting. Yet, unlike the 1984/85 famine, viable institutions -- such as the DPPC, EFSR and Government-donor coordination mechanisms -- are in place to monitor and analyze food security conditions as well as catalyze and coordinate an effective response delivery to the affected population. A large-scale humanitarian catastrophe can and must be averted through early, appropriate and adequate response to the 2003 emergency by the Ethiopian Government and the wider humanitarian community.