Emerging Drought Conditions in S. and SE Ethiopia




Emerging Drought Conditions in Southern and South-eastern Ethiopia,

A General Synopsis and Overview


Following a partial failure of the deyr (short rains) in late 1996, the Government of Ethiopia has drawn attention to the emergence of drought conditions in parts of the Ethiopian Somali National Regional State and Borena zone of Oromiya. On Friday 28 February, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) issued an appeal update for these areas highlighting the need for a range of health, water and food relief interventions. Including the pastoral areas of South Omo and Bale, the update concludes that even if the main rains commence on time (March/April) upwards of 1,000,000 people will require food assistance until June. If the main rains are delayed or fail, this figure could rise dramatically.

Ahead of a series of inter-agency assessment missions being planned by the DPPC and UN agencies for the early part of March, this paper is intended to provide an overview of what is already known about the situation in the affected areas, based on previously conducted assessments and field observations of a number of UN, NGO and government agencies. By touching on recent developments in Kenya and Somalia, the paper places the present situation in Ethiopia within a regional context before going on to summarise what is known about present conditions on the ground.

Most reports do not dispute the observation that the erratic deyr rains last year have resulted in a longer and more intense dry season (jilaal) than normal, with a rapid deterioration of pasture and an earlier than normal exhaustion of surface water sources over much of the affected area. The problem of water is noted as being especially critical in the Dhagahabur zone of the Somali region (especially around Gaashamo) while in southern areas of the region and Borena zone, an influx of displaced pastoralists, together with their animals, from Kenya and Somalia has placed great pressure on the host communities and local resources. In conclusion, it is recommended that in planning possible relief interventions, attention needs to be paid to determining more precisely the numbers and location of the needy groups as well as looking creatively at how best to help them through this difficult period and until such time that the main rains are established.

Regional Overview

Beginning in mid-1996, reports emerged confirming the partial failure of the long season rains in Kenya. This was followed by similarly unsatisfactory short-rains late in the year leading to the emergence of drought conditions in the Eastern and North-Eastern provinces and a corresponding failure of the maize crop and poor pasture in many areas. On 28 January 1997, the Government of Kenya officially declared a drought emergency. Subsequent assessments have shown conditions in the districts of Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir and Mandera to be the most severe with over 90% of the population (500,000) in need of some degree of food assistance over the next 6 months. Recovery is not expected to take place until the commencement of the main rains expected in March/April.

The main productive areas of the Eastern and Central provinces of Kenya were also affected by the poor short-rains and large scale failure of the maize crop was recorded - in some places only one tenth of normal production was obtained (WFP/DHA). Relief food distributions in drought affected parts of the country were expected to reach around 11,000 tons/month by the end of January (FEWS-Kenya).

In Somalia, the same weather systems led to delayed and insufficient deyr (short-season) rains with an erratic distribution pattern and an unseasonable early commencement of the long dry season, the jilaal. Rainfed sorghum crops in Bay and Lower Shebelle regions generally failed and pasture in many areas, but especially in the area between the Juba river and Kenyan border, showed very little improvement.

Recent reports (WFP-Food Security Assessment Unit) from Somalia indicate people are falling back on traditional methods of coping with the long dry season and for the moment the food security situation for the population at large is tolerable and manageable. In general, however, pastoral households are considered to be most at risk during what is seen as likely to be a protracted and intense dry period. Where pasture and water availability are poor and mobility constrained by weakened animals or insecurity, animal prices are falling, and fewer livestock-particularly cattle and goats-are being presented for sale (FEWS-Kenya). The southern pastoral areas are therefore the focus of the greatest concern as the dry season progresses and in need of careful monitoring. FEWS estimates that approx. 58,000 tons of relief food will be needed to meet the cereal requirements of all vulnerable populations in southern Somalia until the end of July.

Though the North-east and North-west similarly experienced an unsatisfactory deyr season, here it is reported that the potential problems were recognised early and the Somaliland administration and North-east authority have taken appropriate action (WFP-Kenya). However, on 5 March Ibrahim Egal, President of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, declared an emergency drought situation, listing the areas of Togdheer, Sool, Sanaag and the western areas of Hargeisa as acute drought areas and the coastal areas of Adwal, southern and northern areas of Saaxil and the southern parts of Hargeisa as moderately affected and requesting international assistance.

South and South-Eastern Ethiopia - overview

Weather patterns over south and south-eastern Ethiopia have been essentially similar to those observed in Kenya and Somalia, although it appears the main gu rains last year (March - June) were satisfactory over much of the region. In some areas, particularly in Dhegehabur zone, however, the main rains were poor and not sufficient to fully replenish the ponds and birkas upon which the local pastoral and cattle-herding economy is based (EUE).

The deyr rains were generally characterized by their late commencement, early cessation and limited distribution affecting more than 70% of the land area. The fairly widespread and intense rainfall that occurred in November and that benefited areas including parts of Borena and Gode zone, only lasted a few days and produced a relatively short-lived recovery in pasture (DPPC).

The impact of the poor deyr rains are varied in both location and nature. Universally, however, their early cessation was the herald of what was going to be an unusually prolonged and intense dry season, or jilaal. In the northern zones of the Somali region, mainly Dhegehabur and Warder zone but also including parts of Kebridehar, the most immediate problem was one of continued access to water - especially important given the historic trend towards increasing sedentarisation of the population and the adoption of a cattle-based agro-pastoral economy which is particularly vulnerable to drought (EUE).

In the southern-most areas of the country, the problems appear to be of a different character. While evidence from satellite imagery and ground observation seems to suggest that conditions were initially not far from normal, especially in woredas to the west of the zone, the additional demands placed on communities already hosting large numbers of drought affected immigrants from North-east Kenya and Somalia have led to an accelerated depletion of surface water resources and pasture followed by an earlier than normal migration to the traditional dry-season grazing areas close to perennial sources of water, e.g., close to deep wells and the Dawa and Ganale rivers. As the dry season progresses, the condition of livestock, especially the already weakened cattle from Kenya, is reported to be deteriorating rapidly while recent data collected through the health bureaus indicates rising levels of malnutrition in Borena. The situation in the south, especially the predominately Somali areas of Liban and Afdher zone

s, is further complicated by movements of people escaping insecurity in the Gedo region of Southern Somalia and an evident increase in military activity as Ethiopian forces along the Bare-Dolo-Suftu axis attempt to keep the fundamentalist al'Itahad at bay (EUE/CARE/FEWS/UNICEF).

Alerted by rising food prices and a rapidly declining terms of trade between livestock and grain, the Government responded by allocating a total of 15,174 tons of relief food to the areas most seriously affected. Of this amount, 6,550 tons was dispatched to the Somali region, 8,024 tons to Oromiya and 540 tons to the Hamer Bena wereda of South Omo zone (SNNPR). The DPPC report that although distributions have taken place with levels of malnutrition rising the amount provided is increasingly inadequate. Affecting people already weakened by poor nutrition have been outbreaks of measles, upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and pneumonia (DPPC).

The sections that follow provide a more detailed synopsis of the present situation in each of the affected zones, dividing these in to the northern (Dhegahabur, Warder), Central (Gode and Kebridehar) and southern (Afdher and Liban) zones of the Somali region and Borena zone of Oromia region:

Northern Areas (Somali Region)

The sandstone formations that characterise much of Dhegehabur zone, especially the area parallel to the Somaliland border, have meant that this area suffers from poor groundwater resources with very few boreholes and productive shallow wells. In the past, these rangelands (sometimes known as the "Haud"), viewed as prime wet season pasture, were at the centre of a mobile and highly resilient camel-based pastoral economy. In more recent years, in parallel with the growing population, people have developed a more settled life-style, largely dependent on water collected and stored in artificial ponds and birkas (cement-lined cisterns). At the same time, there has been a move away from the husbandry of camels towards the keeping of cattle, reflecting the potentially higher profit to be made from the sale of dairy products and steers through the urban markets.

Overgrazing, the destruction of the environment and a growing population, swelled in recent years by large numbers of both returnees and refugees from Somaliland, has led to an increasingly precarious situation where livelihoods are highly vulnerable to the vagaries of the climate. The situation has been particularly acute in Gaashamo district where there are more than 120 permanent or semi-permanent settlements and where, since the end of 1994, the community has been host to large numbers of kin fleeing the conflict in neighbouring Somaliland.

Since the 1950's, large numbers of privately owned birkas have been constructed with little strategic planning or understanding of the potential impact on the environment. In good years, these ponds have been sufficient to sustain both the settled communities and their animals with enough left for sales to nomads and the refugees in the Aware camps. Poor gu season rains in 1996 followed by the almost complete failure of the deyr rains has led to a situation where more than 90% of the birkas and ponds in Dhegehabur zone were dry by the beginning of the year and the remaining are now becoming exhausted. The price of water has risen from a normal level of around 10 Birr per barrel to more than 50 Birr, if available at all. The regional authorities have mobilised what water tankers are available (reported to be ten in total for all zones) and a number of these are presently transporting water from boreholes in Jigjiga to the Gaashamo area (a round trip of some 800 kms). There are also reports that the ponds serv

ing the refugee camps around Aware are now dry and, following failed attempts to purchase water from local birka owners, people are beginning to move in search of alternative sources - possibly back across the border to Odweyne where there are many hand-dug wells. There appears little doubt that water is the crucial issue in this area, requiring most urgent attention (EUE/Hope for the Horn/DPPC/UNHCR).

The present situation in Warder zone is not known in any detail as there have been very few recent first hand reports. A SERP (South-east Rangelands Development Project) mission in December considered drought conditions to be most aggravated in Warder zone out of four served by the Ogaden Branch (includes Afdher, Gode and Kebridehar) due to the very uneven deyr rains in this district. Where the rains were satisfactory (north-west of Warder town and Galadi district) the favourable pasture attracted herdsmen and their animals from neighbouring zones and as far afield as Somaliland and central Somalia (Dhusamareb). Though part of the normal migratory pattern during the dry season, this movement appears to have commenced more than a month earlier than normal. The resulting concentration of animals quickly exhausted any available pasture and most birkas in the area were exhausted by December.

Warder, Danot, Welwel, Geladi and Boh all have deep wells that serve both the urban and pastoral populations but in most cases the status of the pumps and present capacity is not known. Of the three boreholes serving Warder town, two were not functioning in December due to lack of spare parts. Though not as common as in Dhegehabur zone, there are also a number of artificial ponds used for watering animals but, similarly, the current status of these is unknown. Though there are a number of shallow wells in the area, especially around Shillabo, these could benefit from deepening and further improvement.

Central Areas (Somali Region)

Though a few days of localised but relatively intense rainfall in October and again in November helped sustain pastures and recharge some river beds, the picture in recent weeks has been of a steadily deteriorating situation and a general movement of people and animals towards the Shebelle river basin. Long journeys are now being made in search of pasture and as the condition of the animals declines, the death rate, especially among the less robust cattle population, is beginning to rise. Though there has been talk of an impending catastrophe, especially in the media (for example, the Ethiopian Herald of 14 February), it is felt by some observers that the situation has not yet progressed beyond what might be considered "normal" this late in the Jilaal season. If the main rains commence on time, the subsequent recovery and dispersal of livestock could still take place very quickly.

There was some limited flooding of the Shebelle river basin between Kelafo and Mustahil during the main season rains in May/June, but without the benefit of irrigation local maize production remained limited. The subsequent poor deyr rains in turn led to the failure of the secondary rain-fed maize crop in the agro-pastoral areas of both Gode zone and neighbouring Afdher, a crop which in a normal year is significant in stabilising market prices during the jilaal season. Due to management problems only very limited planting of maize took place at the former state farm near Gode in October and much of what was grown was subsequently used for animal fodder. Thus, even before the normal onset of the dry season, the market price of cereals and other important food commodities had begun to rise. By January, the price of maize had risen to as high as 237 Birr/quintal in the Gode market. A decision by the zonal authorities to distribute up to 2,000 tons of relief grain intended for the Gode returnee operation (airlif

t of Ethiopian refugees from Dadab, Kenya, to Gode) should have had a stabilising effect but further price hikes could be anticipated unless additional grain can be injected into the markets. The grain distributed has since been replaced by the regional authorities from stocks held in Jigjiga

Concurrent with the rise in cereal prices has been a worrying downward trend in both the volume of animals being traded and the prices fetched. The depressed demand seems to reflect diminishing confidence on the part of local merchants rather than the condition of the animals, indicating prospects for fattening the animals for profit are poor at present. Where sales have been agreed, sheep and goats in January were fetching between 70 and 100 Birr - half the cost of one quintal of maize while something close to parity is considered to be the norm. As SERP (South-East Rangelands Development Project) records indicate, in many cases animals brought to market are not being sold and without cash, herdsmen are unable to obtain the food they require.

The migration of pastoralists to Gode zone from as far afield as Gaashamo and Warder, and the subsequent concentration of animals around the river and close to other permanent water sources, has led to an increase in the incidence of serious disease, including thick bodies on shoats and pasteurolisis among cattle (EUE).

Southern Areas (Somali Region)

There is very little data available on the present situation in Afdher zone - an area bordered by the Shebelle river to the north, Ganale to the south and bisected by the Weib river, the latter normally dry at this time of year. Indications from recent discussions with local officials in Cheretti, however, would suggest that pasture and water availability is generally more favourable in this zone relative to neighbouring areas. Due to this, however, the zone has experienced a steady influx of people and animals migrating from Liban zone and as far away as Gedo and Bakool regions in Somalia in search of better conditions. Though this pattern of migration is not unusual, what is significant has been the numbers involved, the distances traveled (especially those attracted from over the border in Somalia) and the timing - the movements taking place much sooner than normal. The early concentration of animals along the rivers quickly denuded what grazing was available so forcing people to take their already weaken

ed animals further and further afield in search of suitable pasture. The condition of the animals is declining and poor market demand for livestock is driving prices downwards.

Being traversed by these important rivers, access to water per se does not appear to be a major issue. (An exception to this is the zonal capital of Liban which is some distance from the Ganale river and depends on an artificial pond for water. Already acutely short, this town now requires water to be tankered from a borehole in Negelle, some 125 kms distant.) In addition to the rivers, there are numerous shallow wells serving different communities many of which were constructed/improved by MSF Holland during the period 1993-95 (list available). There are no deep boreholes in the zone, however, and the water storage and distribution system built three years ago by UNICEF in Dolo is not functional at present.

As in other parts of the Somali region, the trend towards settlement and agro-pastoralism is also evident here in the south. The encroachment of opportunistic rain-fed cultivation and some irrigated cultivation along the rivers has been accelerated since the mass return of refugees from Somalia beginning in 1991. Concomitantly, cattle husbandry is replacing a pastoral economy previously dependent on the more resilient camel thus making the population more vulnerable to the kind of severe dry-season now being observed. The environment in both Liban and Afdher is considered to be particularly fragile, and with overstocking the rangelands, especially near the rivers, have begun to deteriorate. Though some maize is still being traded commercially into Kenya and Somalia through Dolo, food prices here have risen considerably in recent months with Maize fetching 120 Birr/quintal in January. This is in part due to the failure of the local rain-fed maize crop late last year and a poor result from irrigated farms alon

g the banks of the rivers. Despite considerable potential, this poor performance is put down to a shortage of pumps and a lack of spare parts.

The increasing price of cereals is also taking place at a time when livestock prices are declining, as would be expected at this time of year. It is the still-continuing influx of people from Somalia and Kenya, however, that is significantly affecting overall food-security in the area, especially in the urban centres. This is particularly the case around Dolo and Suftu towns where it is reported upwards of 40,000 displaced persons have gathered having fled both drought and continuing instability along the border with Somalia where Ethiopian forces are confronting the Muslim extremist organisation, Al'Itahad. In Dolo town it has been reported that a number of people have been hospitalized for malnutrition. Having exhausted their limited reserves, many agro-pastoralists in Liban are also said to be suffering considerably at this time with rising levels of malnutrition.

Borena (Oromia region)

Reports from Borena over the past few months paint a rather contradictory picture. While the hagaya (deyr in Somali areas) rains have been variously reported as "failed", "poor" and "near normal", satellite imagery has indicated average to above-average rainfall and vegetation through much of the zone except a narrow strip bordering Kenya. Ground observations appear to have confirmed that pasture conditions were initially good following the rains, with the best quality in eastern parts of the zone, normal in most central and western areas and somewhat deficit in the south. It is generally agreed, however, that water points are not as numerous as they have been in past years with severe problems emerging in localised areas of the west and south where more numerous surface ponds and underground cisterns had dried-out by as early as October. This resulted in an early (by upwards of two months) migration and concentration of animals around permanent well sites and the perennial rivers in the central and eastern

of the zone (FEWS Ethiopia/EUE).

The large influx of Borana fleeing drought conditions in Northern Kenya (together with a number of Somali-speaking Digodia) are an important complicating factor as the newcomers, although well accepted by the host communities, have placed considerable additional pressure on both pasture and water resources in the zone. As early as September last year around 10,000 distressed migrants from Kenya together with upwards of 80,000 animals are thought to have crossed into Ethiopia. More recently, according to a recent UNHCR/WFP/ARRA assessment, the administration in Moyale claim the migrants now number approximately 72,400 Kenyans and 50,000 Somalis. The early arrivals came in very poor condition but quickly recovered once their animals were able to find good grazing. Later arrivals found it more difficult to find water and good grazing and these have suffered considerable losses to their herds, in some cases all animals have been lost leaving whole families destitute. A return to their traditional grazing areas a

round Wajir and Isiolo seems unlikely until such time that the main rains (expected between March and June in Kenya) become well established and water points along the route are replenished.

Recent reports of widespread animal deaths in the more seriously affected areas (reported by the Oromia DPPB to be: Teltele, Dire, Moyale, Yabello, Arero, Shakiso and Liben - with the first three the worst-hit) and indications of rising malnutrition rates among the herders, would suggest that these areas are facing the beginnings of a serious crisis. Following an earlier assessment, the DPPC reported some 125,000 people in Borena would need food assistance for a period of six months. Since then some food relief has been distributed (including supplementary food through the Health Bureau) but apparently is not sufficient to meet the present needs. Furthermore, it is reported that more than 75% of ponds and cisterns have dried-up since the beginning of the year and all the ponds in Teltele, Dire and Yabello are expected to be dry by the end of February. To address this problem, a total of seven water tankers have also been deployed to the zone (three by the DPPB and four from CARE) and are being used to replen

ish cisterns close to population centres. If more are deployed, the repair and rehabilitation of existing boreholes, wells and other sources may become a priority if the increased demand is to be met.

Despite this worrying backdrop, it generally appears that livestock prices in Borena zone remain buoyant and the markets active, if a little volatile. However, CARE observations from Teltele, Yabello and Dire suggest otherwise with reports of very low prices and of dead goats and cattle not being skinned as the price for skins does not make it worth while.


From this brief synopsis, and given the recent appeal update issued by the DPPC, priorities for further action might include the following:

* Determine more precisely relief assistance already provided or in the pipeline, including allocations and distributions of food, support to the water and health sectors; and identify groups most urgently in need of help;

* Rapidly assess and respond appropriately to the severe shortage of water in Dhegehabur zone, especially concerning the refugee camp populations around Aware and the district of Gaashamo (already being undertaken jointly by UNHCR/Ministry of Water Resources/ESNRS administration/ARRA);

* Assess needs and formulate appropriate assistance to other areas affected by a serious shortage of water (multi-agency team will be sent to the central and southern zones of the Somali region and Borena shortly, led by UNICEF);

* Assess the situation and determine the needs the areas of Afdher and Liban zones known to be affected by the influx of people and animals from Somalia and Kenya, focusing particularly around Dolo and Suftu to verify reports of 40,000 displaced persons;

* Continue to closely monitor the situation in Borena zone, assess the special needs of the displaced populations from Kenya and Somalia and determine any specific health and nutritional requirements;

* Mount a general assessment of the present situation in the central zones of the Somali region (Gode, Kebridehar, Warder) to determine what, if any, specific relief interventions might be required.

General Prognosis and Recommendations

Given recent indications from the National Meteorological Services Agency that the main gu rains in the eastern and southern peripheral areas of the country can be expected to commence on time in March, prospects for a timely end to the jilaal season and a subsequent rapid recovery in food security and access to water and pasture presently appear favourable. A similar pattern was observed in previous drought years when herders soon dispersed to the normal grazing areas and animals quickly recovered following the commencement of the rains. On the other hand, a delayed onset or failure of the main gu rains could presage a most serious crisis, probably characterised by large movements of people and animals towards urban centres and the main rivers/permanent water sources, leading to the possible formation of relief camps such as those seen around Gode, Kelafo, Dolo, Suftu and Moyale during the previous drought emergency in 1992/3 and elements of which persist to this day.

More immediately, while there is clearly an imperative to respond quickly to signs of declining nutrition and increasing distress, a massive free-food relief programme may not be the most appropriate means to address the present crisis. If poorly targeted, such a relief response could adversely distort and ultimately damage the markets upon which the pastoral economy is dependent, leading to the further migration of people to the main urban centres. On the other hand, past experience has shown that targeting free-food assistance so that it only benefits the most needy and vulnerable is a special challenge in pastoral areas and one not easily addressed where administrative structures are weak. Support for special feeding programmes through the provision of supplementary foods will be one possible alternative where the health system provides an existing mechanism for delivery but elsewhere it may be necessary to examine other options. This might include provision of fodder for animals, improved livestock healt

h care and support for markets (purchase of animal skins and assistance to pastoralists looking to reduce their herds for instance) including the temporary lifting of restrictions on the free export of animals across the border to Somalia/Somaliland. In the hope that the main rains do commence on time, as presently projected, adopting a diverse and creative response crisis will aid rather than hinder a rapid recovery from the present crisis.


The designations employed and the presentation of material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the UN concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

17 March, 1997

UN-EUETel.: (251) (1) 51-10-28/29

PO Box 5580, Fax: (251) (1) 51-12-92

Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEmail:undp-eue@telecom.net.et


Editor: Ali Dinar, aadinar@mail.sas.upenn.edu