Ethiopia

Relief Workers warn of another Ethiopia Famine

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Written by Stephanie Kriner, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org
As Ethiopia faces a possible repeat of the 1984-85 famine when at least 1 million people died, relief officials are scrambling for aid. At least 8 million Ethiopians are likely to face hunger or starvation this year, the United Nations said. And the warning signs that appeared in 1984 are showing up once again.

Ethiopia has faced food shortages throughout much of the last decade, but this year's stocks have dipped dangerously close to 1984 levels. A persistent drought has virtually wiped out three successive harvests in the region. As in past years, sporadic rains came too late to rescue crops, which have withered and died.

The situation is very, very bad with wells drying up in areas of southern Ethiopia, hundreds of thousands of livestock animals already dead and people forced to sell their remaining animals," Lutheran World Relief's East Africa representative, Francis Stephanos, said after a trip to Ethiopia. The drought also has sparked a wildfire that has burned at least 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) of forest

Aid workers warn that grain must reach the people before the July rains, which annually flood roads and make travel throughout the area impossible. The task is complicated by poor infrastructure even during the dry season, and an ongoing border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that makes some areas too unsafe for travel.

Disaster relief workers are assessing the parched area to determine the best transportation routes for a planned influx of massive aid. A team of U.S. disaster relief workers is currently in the country, inspecting ports for their capacity to receive relief supplies, evaluating road conditions and security issues and securing trucks to deliver the food throughout the drought-stricken region.

The United Nations World Food Program has appealed to raise 250,000 tons of food for 2.3 million people, and Save the Children has opened an Ethiopian famine fund. The UN and other relief organizations already have begun distributing short-term emergency aid to the most vulnerable populations.

But the 2 million people targeted to receive the first shipments of aid may not see it for weeks because of poor transportation and a lack of warehouses and distribution centers. Airlifts may be necessary to reach the entire population, officials say.

Relief workers are concerned about reaching the entire affected population before people begin to die from starvation. In 1984, the world's response to the famine was enormous. Live Aid rock concerts alone raised about $70 million. But much of the help came too late, not reaching Ethiopia until mid-1985 after thousands of people had died.

In some areas, it may already be too late. In the southern district of Gode, people have begun to flee in search of water, food and medicine, Doctors Without Borders said in a report. As people leave their villages, it makes it impossible for relief agencies to set up feeding centers, and those who are weak from malnourishment will likely die in their search.

"In some places, even if you get food in tomorrow, they're past the point of recuperation," Jay Zimmerman, director of the Ethiopia field office of Save the Children, told reporters.

Relief workers in the region have said that the present Ethiopian Government is more proactive than the one that ruled in 1984, and may prevent this drought from transforming into a widespread famine. Government officials are encouraging drought-affected communities to help themselves. In Konso, villagers are building roads to make it easier for aid convoys to reach them.

The United States has pledged 650,000 tons of wheat, wheat flour, soybeans, corn-soya blends and vegetable oil to be distributed to Ethiopia and five other countries in the Horn of Africa also suffering from drought. In addition to Ethiopia, some 2.7 million are at risk of starvation in Kenya, 2.4 million in Sudan, 1.2 million in Somalia, 730,000 in Uganda and 545,000 in Eritrea, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

More Droughts Likely as Planet Heats Up

Ironically, Ethiopia's drought may be associated with the same weather event that has sent flooding and cyclones to Mozambique. The surface temperature of the Indian Ocean, which usually rises during La Ninas, has gone up by 1 degree Celsius. The warming trend, which meteorologists say is worst this year than it has been in the past, brought cyclones and rain to Mozambique. The storms intensified the drought in the Horn of Africa as moisture was dragged southwards.

Environmentalists say the African continent, already prone to an endless stream of disasters, will be walloped by even more as a result of global warming. "We can expect to see more of these types of climatic disasters as the effects of climate change intensify," Jon Walter, spokesman for the environmental group Greenpeace, told Reuters. "Millions of people will be left homeless and thousands will die in the coming decades unless we reduce our use of fossil fuels."

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DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.