Potentially, Ethiopia soon will have to
deal with two major problems simultaneously. The country has been at war
with neighbouring Eritrea since the summer of 1998 - which puts a big strain
on its resources.
The second, and recurring problem, is food. Every eight to twelve years, the country is hit by severe food shortages. The last one was in 1992. Recently, rumours of an upcoming famine due to lack of rainfall have increased.
There is a chronic food shortage scenario faced in Ethiopia each year that affects between two million and four million people.
The faminies of 1984/85 are unlikely to be repeated because of a heightened awareness of the conditions in the country and there being more NGOs and a far better central administration for the delivery of food aid.
One of the fundamental factors in nutritional estimates is food distribution as the poor roads and relative poverty of the country makes it difficult to ensure that a surplus in one area will be redistirbuted to areas in need elsewhere. This said, the responsible government body, the 'DPPC' (Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission), has steadily improved its food management system in recent years.
In 1998 and 1999, the weather pattern was more a patchwork of conditions varying from floods to drought to perfect weather across the country. This variation in weather brought subsequent differing crop yields.
In 1998 for example a national bumper harvest was mirrored by pockets of severe food shortages.
This year may be the third consecutive year of erratic weather patterns and so there have been projections of significant food shortages.
At present there are pockets of nutritional need in Ethiopia - and the next months will tell whether the situation will deteriorate.
The rainy season (sometimes referred to as the Belg rains) is usually from May to September, though with varying patterns across the country. March and April are therefore traditional periods of scarcity before the rains - "the hunger gap."
At this moment it remains to be seen how this years rain will be, and this will affect the present projection of DPPC regarding a food need for 8-million people.
There is unlikely to be a famine as occurred in 1984/85, but the situation in parts of Ethiopia gives cause for concern. It is, and will continue to be, carefully monitored. In the worst pockets, relief efforts which have already begun will need to continue.
The result of the rainy season will be the most important indicator in predicting the likely severity of the present nutritional alert for Ethiopia.
MSF in the Konso region has been implementing a nutritional assistance programme following an assessment in August 1999. 120,000 people from a total population of 186,000 were effected by two years of drought.
A nutritional survey showed in October a global malnutrition rate of 22.8%. In February this rate had been brought down to 12.8%, but the programme needs to continue until after the rains.
MSF is also closely monitoring food situation in surrounding areas of Konso Region by conducting regular exploratory missions and advocate when needed to bring in more assistance by the Government and INGOs.
In Tigray province, MSF works with the war-affected civilian population. Most at risk are the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), but at present their needs are being adequately met by the Ethiopian authorities and WFP.