WFP emergency operation to feed 2.3 million Ethiopians affected by natural disaster

ADDIS ABABA - The United Nations World Food Programme approved today a $137-million emergency operation in Ethiopia to feed 2.3 million victims of natural disasters such as crop failure, infestations and on-going drought.
Between April and December, the food aid agency plans to distribute 250,000 metric tons of food aid to the country's most vulnerable, such as women and children. Of that amount, WFP is asking donors to supply more than 200,000 metric tons of cereal and over 30,000 metric tons of blended food.

"This emergency operation is critical to avert a food shortage that could threaten the lives of millions," said Judith Lewis, WFP Country Representative for Ethiopia. "We are approaching all donors to consider our urgent request."

According to the Ethiopian Government's Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission (DPPC), drought, excessive rainfall, frost, black beetle and crop damage due to hail will force eight million people in Ethiopia to depend on food aid this year. As agreed with the government, WFP will provide food to about one-third of those needy.

Up to a third of Ethiopians live in areas which chronically suffer from food shortages. Many more, however, have lost their assets and their livestock over the past year and have had to mortgage their future crops. This has caused them to join the numbers already receiving food distributions.

A major cause for the current crisis was the poor harvest of the Meher, or main agriculture season. The late rains of the secondary season, the Belg, resulted in poor land preparation, late planting and short term, low-yielding crops. The failure of this year's Belg rains, which are expected, could further increase the number of those in need.

As a part of its emergency operation, WFP is including non-food items such as cooking utensils, cups, plates, bowls for its supplementary feeding project for vulnerable pastoralists and its emergency school feeding programme which targets 450 schools in the worst affected areas.

The food aid agency also plans to increase the number of local warehouses as well as increase its support to small-scale building and renovation projects that will provide better access to food distribution sites.

"We are especially concerned over the conditions in 58 crisis woredas, or districts," said Lewis. "We want to concentrate on minimizing the dilution of rations and, through supplementary feeding, increase the nutritional level of the most vulnerable, especially women, pregnant women and children under five years of age."

According to WFP, the situation in the Somali and Afar regions of the country is life-threatening, with more than 1.3 million pastoralists needing food aid.

"We're currently experiencing very serious effects of the prolonged drought in the area," said Rebecca Hansen, WFP Relief Advisor. "In some places, it's been four years since a significant rainfall. The water pools have dried up and lack of rainfall has resulted in poor pasture land. We see many of the women and children moving closer to communities where food is available while the men take what little livestock they have left in search of water. In some badly affected zones, like Gode, an estimated 90 percent of the cattle have died."

Because of WFP's intervention in the area, however, the food situation has stabilized, Hansen pointed out. In recent months, WFP has provided food aid to about 1.5 million people in the Somali region as well as supplementary food to approximately 26,000 of the most vulnerable people in two districts. Health interventions and non-food items are still badly needed. The continued insecurity in parts of Somali region has made assessments and monitoring more difficult. WFP, working through its local NGO partners, Ogaden Welfare Society (OWS) and Pastoral Concern Association of Ethiopia, PCAE, has over 60 food monitors in the region to oversee the targeting of distributions to the most vulnerable.

The WFP emergency operation is part of a larger appeal by the United Nations Country Team in Ethiopia for $191 million in food and non-food assistance.

WFP is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. In 1999 WFP fed more than 88 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

For more information please contact:

Roberta Rossi
Public Information Officer, WFP Ethiopia
Tel. +251-1-515188, mobile +2519-201976

Brenda Barton
Regional Information Officer, WFP Nairobi
Tel. +254-2-622594

Christiane Berthiaume
Public Information Officer, WFP Geneva
Tel. +41-22-9178564

Abby Spring
Public Information Officer, WFP New York
Tel. +1-212-9635196