Ethiopia Humanitarian Update, 05/17/01

17 May 2001



DPPC Responds to Concerns in Somali Region

During the course of the past few weeks there have been a number of reports highlighting areas of concern in Somali Region and initiatives taken by the federal and regional governments in response. The concerns point to the continuing vulnerability of people affected by the drought last year, many of whom are continuing to receive relief assistance.

Reports from the regional DPPB, MSF Belgium, SC UK, PCAE, UNICEF, WFP and a number of other agencies and organisations led to the regional government forwarding a request to the federal DPPC for additional assistance and for a team of experts to be sent to Jigjiga to assess the situation in IDP camp locations, initially in Fafan, Kebre Beyeh and Hartesheik and subsequently in other weredas where IDPs are located.

Based on the findings of the DPPC team and in response to requests from the region additional allocations of supplementary foods have been authorised for delivery to Denan (based on the nutritional survey findings of MSF Belgium) and to other areas of concern that were surveyed. The federal DPPC has also authorised an increase in general food distribution coverage. DPPC also called a general meeting of NGOs, UN agencies and donors in Addis Ababa at which agreement was reached to send technical assessment teams to the region to examine the present status of the communities in difficulties from both immediate and medium term perspectives.

The regional government, with support of the DPPC, WFP, UNICEF and NGOs in the region, initiated the technical missions by helicopter and fixed-winged aircraft on 11 May. Missions with more general participation are also now ready to begin.

See article on Emergency Nutrition Interventions in Somali Region- UN Grapples with complexity of Issues in Somali Region

Foot and Mouth Disease Now Affecting Exports from Africa

The original livestock ban imposed by Saudi Arabia, Yemen and United Arab Erimates due to Rift Valley Fever (RVF) is still in place for the countries of the Horn of Africa with the exception of Eritrea and Sudan and is now further complicated by a ban from Saudi Arabia on all animals and animal products from Africa as a whole in fear of the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). Saudi’s Ministry of Commerce has announced the temporary banning of all meat imports including chilled, frozen or canned meats. This decision was based on findings from the International Organisation for Animal Health. Saudi Arabia also imposed a ban from Yemen in order to ensure that animals and animal products were not traveling from Africa through Yemen to Saudi Arabia.

Indonesia has also stopped the import of hides and skins from Ethiopia for fear of an introduction of FMD. As a result, a shipment from Ethiopia worth US$ 1.8 million was not off-loaded in Indonesia. A high level mission from Ethiopia, consisting of the head of the Livestock Marketing Authority, the Vice Minister of Agriculture and the head of the Federal Veterinary Service Team was not able to reopen the trade in hides and skins as Indonesia pursues a zero-risk policy for the introduction of FMD.

Meningitis Outbreak Passes Peak

Between October and April a total of 5,646 cases of meningitis were reported from all over the country with a total of 392 deaths. The national attack rate is at 8.33 per 100,000 inhabitants and the case fatality stands at 6.9 %. The peak of the epidemic was observed in March with 724 cases. From then there has been a steady decrease in the number of cases up to the third week of April at which time a small increase was observed (see graph).

Up to 7 May 2001, 10 out of the 11 regions have reported cases. The number of regions, zones and districts reporting cases varied in the different months. In March, 9 regions 33 zones and 96 districts reported cases, while in April there were 8 regions 35 zones and 80 districts reported cases.


Donors have responded positively to the recent government appeal for assistance, supplying vaccine, helping vaccination activities and providing technical support. Up to now, a total of 3.5 million doses of vaccine have arrived in the country through the various partners working with the Ministry of Health. These include: IFRC (1 million doses), WHO (800 doses), UNICEF (500,000 doses), MSF-B (400,000 doses), MSF-H (370,000 doses), MSF-F (350,000 doses), MSF-CH (110,000 doses). In addition, the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) has made Euro 2.5 million available to be used for epidemic control and the Government of Ireland has made US$ 100,000 available through WHO for the same purpose. Prior to these recently announced pledges and in consultation with DPPC, UNICEF made available US$ 318,000 in emergency contributions from the Danish Government and UNICEF Spanish National Committee, both being pledges against the 2001 emergency appeal.

Mission Scheduled to Examine Poor Grain Market

The UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (UN-EUE) will be undertaking a field mission to the western zones of Oromiya region (Jimma, East and West Wellega and West Shewa zones) from 19 May to 4 June 2001. The purpose of the mission will be to examine the weak grain market and the resulting economic hardship faced by farmers in these areas. Farmers in surplus producing areas, such as Jimma, are reported to be unable to liquidate their debts due to the lack of market and extremely low grain prices and, as a result, some are selling off their assets like oxen, cows and shoats to survive. The mission will try to identify possible solutions. Meanwhile, a joint UNICEF/DPPC mission will be traveling during the same time to neighboring Amhara Region for the purpose of assessing the continuing needs of displaced populations in East Gojam Zone as a consequence of ethnic clashes late last year. For further information, contact Dechassa Lemessa from the UN-EUE at Tel. 444148 or Banitrugu Haile Mariam at UNICEF, Tel. 515155.

Unidentified Cattle Disease Outbreak

An unidentified cattle disease has broken out in Badetokuma kebele of Aleduda wereda in Oromiya Region causing blindness in over 40 cows, heifers and oxen and over 300 horses in the past several months. The disease either causes blindness with no other symptoms or infects one or two of the animals’ eyes resulting in the rupture of the eye. Government officials were unable to diagnose the disease from blood, ocular fluid and urine samples taken long after the cattle were blinded by the disease, but are currently taking steps to ensure a proper diagnosis. The Federal Government has requested the National Animal Health Research Institute in Sebeta for a detailed investigation.

Eritrea and Ethiopia UN Country Teams Meet in Asmara

The first meeting of the Ethiopia and Eritrea UN Country Teams in either of the two countries since the conflict began in 1998 was held in Asmara from 9 to 10 May 2001. The meeting was co-chaired by Mr. Simon Nhongo, UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, Eritrea and Mr. Samuel Nyambi, UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, Ethiopia with the respective heads of agencies in both countries participating. Also attending the meeting was Mr. Ian Martin, Deputy SRSG, UNMEE and Mr. Bronek Szynalski, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator on the Drought in the Horn of Africa.

At the gathering, the two UN Country Teams considered ways to collaborate more effectively with their respective host Governments on a wide range of common humanitarian and technical issues, including health and HIV/AIDS; resource mobilization; and the safe return of displaced and refugee populations. The participants also discussed ways to build on the existing good working relations with UNMEE on humanitarian issues. The meeting sought to identify how the UN Country Teams could contribute towards confidence building and in fostering an environment conducive to long-term reconciliation between the two countries. The participants reconfirmed their commitment to sustainable development and resolved to work towards strengthening and supporting peace initiatives as well as to seek new opportunities to encourage and facilitate contacts between the two countries. Agreement was also reached on the need to communicate to the Special Envoy on the Drought in the Horn of Africa the recommendation to extend her mandate beyond 30 June 2001 until conditions improve.

The two UN Country Teams agreed to re-convene in Addis Ababa before the end of 2001.

Concern over Freedom of Movement for UNMEE

The United Nations Security Council has expressed concern about restrictions on freedom of movement for peacekeepers of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) following a briefing by the chief of the mission Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila. SRSG Legwaila told the Council that, "To deny UNMEE freedom of movement is simply to say, 'go home' because there is no way we can do our job unless we are able to move around freely".

Training on Gender and Peacekeeping Operations

UNMEE in Addis Ababa held its first half-day in-mission workshop on Gender and Peacekeeping Operations on 14 May 2001. The workshop was used as an opportunity to test a training package on "Gender and Peacekeeping" developed by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations for troop contributing countries and peacekeepers at various missions. UNMEE has been selected as the first mission to undergo the in-mission training. The objectives of the training package were to (a) inform peacekeepers of how the relationships between women and men and their gender roles and responsibilities are changed by the experiences of conflict; (b) develop basic skills, which help peacekeepers recognize the different needs, capacities and expectations of women and men in the host population; (c) make peacekeepers aware of the implications of their actions. Participants in the training included UNMEE civilian and military staff, UN agencies, OAU and selected NGOs in Addis Ababa.

IMSMA is Up and Running

The Ethiopian Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) is up and running with a focus is on getting accurate information to feed the database. While the HALO Trust/EDP rapid survey conducted last year provides about 30 dangerous area records, other sources are also being pursued. The recently handed over Eritrean records have provided the UNMEE MACC in Asmara with records of more than 1,000 mined areas. Up to 40% of these are thought to be in Ethiopia and as details emerge and translations are made, it is hoped that they will be made available for mapping of the Ethiopian portions. A mission will be going to northern Ethiopia shortly to talk with local military officers and determine if any informal records have been kept by Ethiopian units that would supplement the existing data.

The World Bank initiative continues on course with a focus on the procurement of the technical mine action equipment. The UN mine action advisory team, through the Ethiopian Mine Action Office (EMAO), are providing specifications and details of the equipment to be procured. The Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (MEDaC) and the World Bank recently announced a re-phasing of US$ 10 of the US$ 30 million originally set aside for mine action. This has been done to accommodate a need for additional compensation to families of those deceased during the fighting. The remaining US$ 20 million is considered sufficient to fund the proposed components funded through World Bank/MEDaC funds.

Ethiopian Mine Action Office Soon to be Operational

The civilian Ethiopian Mine Action Office is finalizing organizational plans and hopes to begin appointing additional staff in the next week. There has been a strong push by relevant government agencies to ensure the civilian nature of the management as well as ensure civilian capacity in all aspects of the programme. A training camp first established in 1995 has gone through necessary modification and rehabilitation and the first training course was scheduled to begin mid-May. This should put the first deminers in the field at the end of June.

Landmine Awareness in Afar Region

Rehabilitation and Development Organization (RaDO), a national NGO supported by UNICEF, undertook a training of trainers workshop in Assaita between 3rd and 5th of May inclusive. A total of 30 participants representing the DPPB, Bureau of Health, Bureau of Education, Government Administration and clan leaders attended the workshop. The training included mine and UXO recognition, dangerous areas, safe behaviour messages and awareness methodologies. In addition to learning, the participants contributed by applying their local knowledge of the mine problem to discussions and work groups.

The training was preceded by a longer assessment mission conducted by RaDO to look at some socio-cultural aspects of the Afari society that are relevant to the development of appropriate materials and strategies. The mission also assessed the risk of landmine accidents to which the population is exposed and the need for mine awareness training. According to the DPPB, there are 33,900 internally displaced people in Afar, out of a population of 1.1 million. Afar is one of Ethiopia’s most disadvantaged regions, with a predominantly nomadic population. Literacy levels are very low, and Kuranic schools are an important resource for education. Afaris attribute great importance to the exchange of information. As a people "on the move", Afaris comply to the principle of dagu, which consist of a process of information sharing between people who meet on the road in which speakers exchange accurate reports of everything that they heard and seen during their travel. A second occasion for information sharing is mablo. This community meeting is attended by clan and sub-clan elders, religious leaders, but is open to all members of the community, including children, who have the right to address the group. Mablo also works as a conflict-resolution forum.

In Afar landmine awareness activities will target Elidar, Dupti, Dalul, Erepti, Afdera and Berhale weredas, located in Zones 1 and 2, along border areas most affected by the conflict. Although there has been no systematic collection of data on landmine/UXO victims until now, RaDO was able to collect preliminary information on 25 reported incidents. Elidar wereda, located within Zone 2, is believed to be the district with the highest concentration of mines. Several areas have been evacuated. To date, the Ethiopian Demining Project has reportedly undertaken some mines clearance but the number is not known.

UNDP and the Government to Sign Project Document

UNDP and the Government are close to signing a project document detailing support to the emerging National Mine Action strategy and capacity building. Discussions between relevant government partners and mine action survey specialists are planned for late May to begin to identify a methodology and implementation plan for the much needed impact survey of mines and unexploded ordnance throughout Ethiopia.

Physiotherapists Association to Conduct Landmine Conference

The Ethiopian Physiotherapists Association supported by UNDP/UN-EUE and UNICEF, will conduct a conference in early June that will bring together physiotherapists, medical professionals and mine action specialists from throughout the country. The conference aims to raise awareness of the impact of landmines on civilian populations, share experience on victims assistance and hopefully to take the first steps toward a coordinated approach to gathering information on the victims of landmines.


Armyworm Outbreak

An outbreak of Armyworm has been reported from four weredas in South Omo zone, Konso Special Wereda, Burji Special Wereda and Derashi Special Wereda in SNNP Region as well as in three weredas in Borena Zone and six weredas in Bale Zone of Oromiya Region. Experts from the Crop Production and Protection Department of the Ministry of Agriculture are now in the field to assess the situation and to give support to local agriculture department officials. The control operation is underway but the crop damage caused as a result of the outbreak is not yet fully known. Current moist weather conditions could prove favourable to further Armyworm outbreaks elsewhere in the country.

Fertilizer Marketing in the Year 2000/2001

The National Fertilizer Industry Agency has estimated fertilizer demand for the 2001 cropping season to be in the order of 460,000 mts (300,000 mts of DAP and 160,000 mts of Urea). According to a report released by the Agency, with a carryover of 95,179 mts from the previous year and the importation of 110,000 mts up to end of March 2001 together with further planned imports of 215,000 mts until the end of the crop season, total expected fertilizer availability for the season would be 420,179 mts. This shows a deficit of 39,821 mts against planned sales targets. However, the availability of fertilizer for this cropping season as compared to last year's sales of 297,907 mts is 41% higher and is expected to meet the actual requirement.

Rainfall Situation (courtesy of WFP)

Belg rains that were reported to be two to four weeks late in starting are still continuing as of mid-May in most parts of the north-eastern highlands. However, extended belg rains, while good for the belg harvest, may delay planting of meher crops. The belg producing areas included in these north-eastern highlands such as South Tigray, North and South Welo and North Shewa have all received some belg rains. There was concern about the negative impact of a one month dry period in South Tigray beginning the last week of March, but rain was reported beginning 6-7 May in some weredas of the region. Raya Azebo and Alamata received very good rain in all except a few localised areas. In Raya Azebo 126 mm of rain fell in a span of three hours.

Earlier reports at the end of April confirmed that in most parts of Tigray there had been rain, signaling the start of the belg rains, known locally as the "Azmera" rains. Rain started around 21 March and heavy rain was recorded in Hawzien, Saese, Tsaeda Imba, Atsbi Womberta, Wukro (all Eastern Zone) and Mekele. Werie Leke, Adwa, Ahferom and Laelay Maichew weredas of Central Zone received rain good enough for land preparation. In Southern Zone, the rain was said to be generally very light, except in Hintalo Wejerat, where it was relatively good. In Western Zone light rain was reported in late April. The rains in the month of April have enabled farmers to prepare their lands and/or, in some areas, to plant. In Ahferom and Inderta weredas, for example, 75% and 90% respectively of the cultivable land available has been prepared for meher planting, and farmers in Hawzien and Atsbi Womberta have reportedly started planting long-cycle crops such as finger millet, though to a limited extent.

In North and South Welo the rains resumed after a dry spell in early April. Harvest is expected to be better in these areas. Torrential rain was reported in Kobo wereda of North Welo Zone on 11 May, leading to some flooding, but otherwise the rains have been favourable which will help in land preparation and planting of meher crops.

Rains still continue in western parts of the country. These are expected to be beneficial for planting long cycle crops and the flowering of perennial crops such as coffee. Southern parts of the country, including Borena Zone, have received good rains both in quantity and distribution. The lowland areas of Bale, however still have not received sufficient rain. Since these are among the areas that suffered from consecutive drought and subsequent shortage of water and pasture, they will remain areas of concern if the poor rainfall situation persists.

Good main season (gu) rains were reported from most parts of Somali Region by the end of the first week of May, but some pockets of concern remain where there has been no significant rain so far, such as Denan in Gode Zone, and in Danot Wereda and parts of Warder Wereda, where rain has been less than in other parts of Warder Zone. In Korahe Zone, rain was not as good in Shilabo Wereda as elsewhere in the zone. Rain in southern parts of Liben Zone, and south-western parts of Afder Zone, was not as extensive as elsewhere in Liben and Afder. Rain started earlier in mid-March in Shinile and Jigjiga zones (spill-over from highland belg rain), and there was good rain in early April in northern parts of Liben Zone, but the gu rains did not start in earnest in much of the region until late April or even early May. Rain has recently been so heavy in Fik and Degehbour zones that road access has been affected, and trucks pre-positioning food to Gode from Dire Dawa are using the alternative route, via Gashamo and Warder, because the crossing at Birkot in Degehbour Zone is again washed out. The same rain is causing vegetation to turn green along the route to Gode, starting from Jigjiga up to Denan Wereda.


Somali Region - Areas of Concern

There is very serious concern over the situation in Denan, Gode Zone, where in addition to the lack of rain, food aid supplies have not been sufficient, and nutritional status among children under five is declining. As described above, DPPC has agreed to take action following requests from MSF-B, WFP and DPPB, to increase general food rations at this location, which had been severely cut back over recent months, and additional supplies of supplementary food have been allocated as well. There have been on-going complaints from administrators in various parts of Somali region about decreased rations and gaps in receiving assistance.

A recent nutrition survey by Save the Children UK in the worst affected areas of Fik Zone indicates worsening food security conditions in that area.

In Degehbour Zone, a nutritional survey in Gunegedo revealed high levels of malnutrition among a population that includes large numbers of drought displaced from surrounding areas. The Ogaden Welfare Society, which had been distributing complementary rations in Gunegedo recently ended its programme because of funding problems.

Following joint UNICEF/BOH/DPPB site visits in early April, action has been taken by DPPC to increase food supplies into locations hosting drought displaced people near the refugee camps in Hartisheik and Kebrebeyeh in Jijiga Zone, and to the displaced at Fafen, also in Jijiga Zone. On the basis of recent nutritional surveys conducted among the drought displaced at these locations by a local NGO, Mother and Child Development Organization (MCDO), accompanied by the Regional Health Bureau and DPPB, and the UNICEF regional international nutrition consultant, MCDO is reopening its supplementary feeding centre in Fafen and starting a therapeutic feeding centre in Hartisheik with food from DPPB.

A feeding centre has been opened in Danot in Warder Zone based on recent nutritional surveys indicating serious malnutrition.

Amhara Region

Areas currently of concern in Amhara Region, based on WFP monitors' reports and other information are as follows:

  1. Ziquala Wereda in Wag Hamra Zone. Wag Hamra Zone in general had very poor meher rains and there have been reports of out migration from Sekota and Ziquala zones, mainly due to lack of pasture, to neighbouring zones of North Gondar as early as October and November. Dehana and Sekota weredas have been receiving food while Ziquala Wereda had received only one and half months' ration this year.
  2. Gubalafto wereda in North Welo Zone. Though relief food distribution was regular, the number of belg beneficiaries was reduced from 55,000 to 17,000 by the federal DPPC. A disaster area assessment team sent from federal DPPC has agreed with the zonal DPPD to revise numbers back to 55,000. However, the federal DPPC has not yet agreed to send the food based on the 55,000 figures.
  3. Kutaber Wereda in South Welo Zone for the same reason as Gubalafto.

Oromiya Region

Poor rainfall in the lowlands of Bale has led regional officials to plan a special assessment in these areas, which will be joined by WFP (21-26 May). There is also concern for parts of Eastern Hararghe, where DPPC is planning to conduct a nutritional survey.

For all areas where drought relief operations are in place, WFP is working with DPPC and local DPPD officials and with NGOs involved to ensure that food reaches the areas currently of special concern.


The WFP-contracted short-haul fleet will continue in a limited form in Somali Region for an additional two months. One hundred trucks will be used to deliver food in Gode, Fik and Shinile zones and parts of Afder Zone.


Focus on Emergency Nutrition Interventions in Somali Region —
UN Grapples with Complexity of Issues in Somali Region

The situation in Somali Region remains highly complex with signs of improvement and recovery tempered by continuing reports of serious malnutrition among certain vulnerable communities. The address of immediate humanitarian concerns is a priority of government and aid organisations working in the region, but the implementation of longer-term programmes that will have a lasting effect on people's livelihoods and quality of life are of equal importance. The effects of successive years of drought severely impacted the ability of families to fend for themselves and resulted in internal displacement and the gravitation of significant portions of whole communities towards dependable water points, food distribution points, urban centres and refugee camps where the hope for a better life for the short term could be realised.

In the past few months, some of those displaced since late 1999 have returned to their homes, prompted by what recent field reports call a good start to the main season gu rains in the south and southeast of Ethiopia. For some of them and some of the families who remained closer to home all along, mainly male representatives of the family have ventured off with surviving animals in traditional grazing activities leaving the rest of the family either in their place of displacement or in their area of origin.

The onset of the rains is an encouraging sign: They should lead (and have led in areas where rains have been falling over the past few weeks) to improved pasture and a subsequent seasonal increase in milk production as cows and camels begin to give birth. Good rains will also provide access to ground water and a return of herds and herders to traditional grazing patterns. The reduced concentration of populations and herds near dry season watering holes will allow for more healthy living conditions; and, in farming areas, the rains will allow for the planting of sorghum and maize.

Nonetheless, with the positive comes the need to continue to focus on the extremely difficult circumstances faced by as many as 125,000 people displaced by the drought of the previous two years, the communities from whence they came that have not been able to revitalise livelihoods and pocket areas of the region where rains have not yet fallen. There is also the need to acknowledge the impact of the absence of support for development programmes. Some of the humanitarian problems now faced by the region ¾ and not limited to displaced persons ¾ may in fact be a result of the lack of inadequate investment in infrastructure, education, health services, livestock management, agriculture, incense production and marketing and delays in the exploitation of natural gas reserves.

While clearly the longer-term aspects need to be addressed, Government, the United Nations and NGOs clearly need to continue monitoring conditions in the region closely and respond aggressively to signs of declining nutrition where ever these are detected.

Surveys, rapid assessments and field visits conducted by UN, NGO and government aid workers over the last three weeks in Denan, Fafan, Kebre Beyeh and Hartesheik show unacceptably high levels of malnutrition, a prevalence of diarrhoeal and vaccine preventable disease and ineffective food distributions. It is widely recognized that the most needy populations are those dispossessed of their livestock as a consequence of the 1999/2000 drought, displaced from their areas of origin and now dependent on relief assistance. A series of technical rapid assessments missions organised in joint consultation with regional and federal DPPC/health and water officials, UN agencies and NGOs is now being conducted. The primary focus is on vulnerable IDPs and host communities in nine zones.

High Levels of Malnutrition in Fafan IDP Camps

A rapid assessment was carried out in the Fafan area by a UNICEF/Regional Health Bureau (RHB) nutritionist in mid April, after Mother and Child Development Organisation (MCDO) was forced to close its feeding center due to lack of funding. Preliminary findings warned of high malnutrition in the Fafan Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Subsequently, UNICEF and ECHO requested MCDO to undertake a more comprehensive survey in order to more accurately evaluate the nutritional situation.

A systematic random sampling survey commenced on 25 April with a seven-member team from MCDO, including the UNICEF/RHB nutritionist. The team confirmed the original findings of the rapid assessment with results of the survey indicating 21.2% global malnutrition and 3.3% severe malnutrition and a dramatic deterioration in the nutritional status of the IDPs from the period prior to MCDO having closed its feeding center.

The decline in malnutrition levels can be linked to a combination of factors, including the non-distribution of food since the end of March when MCDO left the area and the lack of access to health care after the closing of the center.

Following the recommendations of the survey, endorsed by a DPPC assessment mission to Jigjiga zone, MCDO reopened its supplementary feeding center on 7 May with supplementary food support from DPPB. DPPC has also allocated additional general food rations for Fafan while at the same time increasing allocations of general and supplementary rations for Kebre Beyhah and Hartesheik IDPs. A DPPC assessment team also carried out a nutritional survey on 11 May in Hartesheik IDP camp. Results of this survey are not yet known.

(For more information you can access the UNICEF Emergency Report posted on the UN-EUE web site at and the article on Relief Food, Somali Region-Areas of Concern.)

Situation in East and West Hararghe Needs Monitoring

A team from the UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (UN-EUE) visited East and West Hararge zones in Oromiya Region from 27 April to 5 May 2001 to observe the humanitarian condition, the weather and its likely impact on the area. The mission specifically targeted the chronically food insecure areas of Fedis Wereda of East Hararge Zone and Mieso Wereda of West Hararge Zone. During the brief mission, discussions were held with zonal and wereda officials and farmers in these areas.

The short season rains in the lowlands, according to local officials and farmers in both zones, were not adequate, manifested in only light showers. Thus, crops that were planted did not germinate due to lack of moisture. To compensate, farmers in these areas used dry planting methods in anticipation of the rains. According to farmers in the lowlands, unless adequate rains are received by the end of May it could mean a serious problem in terms of production.

In East Hararge, DPPD officials confirmed that the most affected areas needing assistance are Fedis, Gola Oda, Kurfa Chale, Gursum, Gurawa and Babile weredas. The result of a SC/UK nutrition assessment conducted in Gola Oda wereda in March/April this year specified malnutrition levels (of 20%) above internationally recommended norms and indicated a nutritional situation worse this year than in immediately previous years.

At the same time in West Hararge, Daro Labu, Boke, Anchar Guba Lafto and Mieso weredas are reportedly at risk. This is due to an unsatisfactory meher harvest last year and recurrent chronic vulnerability as a result of unfavorable climatic conditions like drought, frost and hailstorms coupled by the limited availability of off farm activities as alternative income sources.

Government officials in both zones are arguing that after they conducted a post meher harvest assessment, additional numbers of people have fallen into the needy population group.

In conclusion, the team recommends that an accurate population census through arranging quick and special programmes, updated needy population figures, pre-positioning of foods and close monitoring of the situation are needed to combat a further deterioration in the situation.

Borena after the drought: rains bring hope for the future

A year ago, the mainly pastoral Borana people of southern Ethiopia (mainly inhabiting Borena Zone of Oromiya Region) were suffering from the absence of three successive years of rain and the reported loss of more than 60% of their livestock. Over half a million people were affected with the vast majority having to rely on food aid. The remaining livestock were in such a weakened state that it was impossible to sell them in the market.

Today, rains are giving life to the livestock, beauty back to the region and hope to the pastoralists. Yet, despite the rains, the effects of the year 2000 drought still linger. The pastoralists and agro-pastoralists agree that due to the heavy loss of livestock they encountered in past three years, they have found it impossible to redistribute animals in accordance with the Borana tradition of the better off restocking the "have nots" in times of drought. Relief and rehabilitation assistance are the only alternative they have in the aftermath of the drought, with an emphasis on the supply of seeds, farm tools and livestock. There is also a need for arid and dry land agricultural extension programmes that will help new farmers in the region who are making efforts to reduce their vulnerability by diversifying their income. Food aid for many is still needed to sustain life until their cattle and farms can once again provide milk, fat, meat and grains. Pastoralalist take longer to recover from drought than settled farmers, mainly because they rely on reproductive capital, which can take four years or more to provide a yield. This is assuming there is uninterrupted seasonal rain for recovery, but considering there have been seven drought years in the last ten; pastoralists, government offices and NGOs are skeptical of such rain.

Pastoralist societies in Ethiopia are vulnerable whenever a drought strikes due to a high dependency on animal herding and because they are largely marginalized due to their remoteness and patterns of seasonal migration. It is only recently that pastoralists started to practice farming, largely as a result of pressure on grazing, limited livestock markets and recurrent drought. Cultural values and lack of knowledge are cited as among the main reason for the Borana not to engage in farming. Most pastoralists have not yet begun farming, however some pastoralists did start farming 15 to 20 years ago while others began four or less years ago and farming is not yet a reliable means of survival.

To lessen vulnerability, NGOs working in Borena Zone¾ such as CISP, CARE, Action for Development (AfD), EECMY (Mekane Yesus), COOPI, LIVA, GOAL SOS-Sahel and GTZ¾ are providing farm tools, seeds, restocking of cattle, shoats and camels, micro-credit schemes, cash and food-for-work, free food aid, livestock market information, natural resource management, nutrition, capacity building of pastoral groups and drilling of bore holes, ponds and cisterns. UNICEF retains health and drilling personnel, working directly with counterparts in Negele and Yabelo.

Borena also suffers from other problems common to many other regions in the country. These include poor and inadequate communication facilities, schools, roads, clinics and hospitals, drinking water and a lack of awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Drought is not new to Borena and can be traced back as far as the 12th century when traditional water well systems, known as ellas, were already in use. These ellas, still in use today, are only used when there is a water shortage. To prevent disease from spreading, each user group cleans them after their livestock have been watered. Pastoralists also use recently constructed boreholes only in the dry season. During the wet season they use surface water instead.

Even though a remarkably sophisticated system of water management has always been in place in Borena, recurrent drought has made survival increasingly difficult. Centuries ago, modern technology was not available; but now, resources and the expertise available in the world could alleviate the problem in a short period of time. With more programmes to create awareness on diversification, demarginalization, early warning and quick response to drought, available water (both for human and animals) and more clinics and schools, the world would not have to witness the widespread preventable death, malnutrition and child mortality seen a year ago.


A Community in Focus: HIV/AIDS in Debre Markos

As you come into Debre Markos town along either of the two main roads from Addis Ababa or Bahir Dar, you cannot miss the central mini-roundabout and a large red ‘Trust’ condom poster standing opposite it. Against a simple background, the poster is something of a feature, and its imposing slogan ‘Value Your Life’ seems to give the impression that the message of HIV/AIDS has been driven home here.

Debre Markos, with its palm and jacaranda lined main street and slow moving horse carts, has the typical calm and peaceful presence of a rural town. Yet at the back of a local church, a deacon named Senay leads me through its burial ground which tells a different story. The place is packed with graves ¾ hundreds of them, many of which are new. Inscriptions on the tomb stones which stand just a few inches from one another suggest that these people died young. And most of them, I am told, died of aids. If this continues, Senay says, soon there will not be any place left for burial.

Ask anybody in Debre Markos town whether they know about HIV/AIDS, chances are you will get a slightly embarrassed knowing smile or frown. Yes, we know what it is, and it is to do with sex. And sex is still a taboo subject here where the Orthodox church has a profound dominance in people’s day-to-day life. Ask a group of youngsters whether they think their friends use condoms, most of them will give you the answer straight away ¾ ‘No.’ Only small kids will tell you that they buy condoms because they make wonderful balloons.

Within Debre Markos town, thanks to the mass media at national level, one can perhaps safely assume the basic knowledge of AIDS at least among the younger generation. Locally, only a small percentage of the population own a television or radio set. However, as the administrative capital of East Gojam Zone, Debre Markos does have the advantage of having at its door step the various Government Departments, the Red Cross, Amhara Women’s Association, a local educational radio station and a hospital. It should do well.

But no! Until recently, dealing with HIV/AIDS had been mainly a job for the health department, and there had been little joint effort from the rest. The radio station has not been able to produce one single programme focusing on HIV/AIDS; the hospital, with more than half its in-patients clinically suspected to be HIV positive, does not have any AIDS specific education programme. They are lucky enough to have had their equipment fixed for testing the disease after a long break down; Women’s Association is well aware of the female vulnerability on issues concerning AIDS, but to teach women about assertiveness in this largely male dominant society is a hard idea to chew on.

One hears the usual complaints: Not enough funds. Not enough information. True as they may be, a government employee bluntly points out: "The problem is no one cares!" When asked about the new policy implemented earlier this year to incorporate all government sectors and NGOs in the anti-Aids campaign, the secretary of the town council said that two new committees had been set up in the last few months with members from different offices. This however, she said, should have happened much earlier.

Perhaps not uncharacteristic of the Amhara cultural tradition, seminars and dramas are the current and by far the favourite forms of HIV/AIDS education. Under the Government guidelines, school HIV/AIDS clubs and community drama groups have been set up to give regular presentations or performances. But the problem is audience. While the drama groups manage to attract considerable attention in the surrounding rural areas, most young people in town prefer to pay 50 cents to see a movie in a local video house.

Every drama on HIV/AIDS is a moral lesson, and it tells you more about how to be a good Christian than about how to protect yourself against the killer disease. In a traditional orthodox society like that of Debre Markos where women have only begun to wear western clothes in the last few years, many people worry that promoting the use of condoms is against their culture.

And culture in Debre Markos to a large extent means the Orthodox Church, by far the most powerful establishment among other minority religions. Since the local churches have been called on to address the HIV/AIDS problem, nowadays at weddings Christian morals are stressed by priests alongside a warning for ‘the current disease’ or ‘God’s punishment’, terms to replace the very sinful word AIDS.

Unless you are deaf or blind, every young person has learned about AIDS by now. A few years back, there was a common misunderstanding here that condoms were all contaminated with HIV. These days school boys are buying condoms to impress girls, although many are said not to use them during sex. More couples are turning up at the hospital for HIV tests before getting married. Unfortunately, the anti-AIDS campaign has brought prejudice and distaste as well as awareness among the public. In Debre Markos, ‘You HIV!’ has become the latest insult words.

There are of course people who simply do not care despite what is going on. And these, I am told, are by no means a small number. As a fashionable saying among the youngsters goes: "Don’t mind dying from Aids, if I drive a Toyota-DX" This may be youthful frivolousness, but many people also associate the rapid spreading of HIV/AIDS with social problems such as prostitution, drugs, unemployment and frustration among the youth. A 26-year-old man says: ‘When you have no job, and there is nothing to do in town, you spend all day drinking and chewing khat, after that you wouldn’t care about a thing, let alone HIV/AIDS."

And the burial ground at the back of St. Markos church proves it.



[Articles included under the "Commentary" section of the Humanitarian Update present a personal view that may not necessarily reflect the position of the United Nations]