UNDP-EUE: Update on food security in Ethiopia - 30 June 1999

UNDP-EUE: Update on food security in Ethiopia - 30 June 1999

Update on food security in Ethiopia - 30 June 1999

Government allocates 20,000 M/T of grain to meet crisis

In response to mounting concerns about the current drought situation in Ethiopia, the disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) announced that the government had pledged 20,000 M/T of grain to meet the rising relief needs of the country. In a press release issued on 24 June the DPPC stated that the grain would be borrowed from the Emergency Food Security Reserve for distribution in the most seriously drought affected areas of the country. Repayment to the EFSR will be made in 2000 through local purchases. This special allocation is in addition to over US$ 5 million the government has spent over these last few months to cover distribution and transport costs for 55,000 M/T of food aid secured from donors since April 1999.

Additional food resources urgently needed

Additional pledges have also been announced by Canada, US, UK and the Netherlands but the overall pledge situation remains alarmingly low. The new pledge from the Ethiopian government, combined with these new donor pledges, will provide sufficient food to cover next month's requirements but additional pledges are urgently needed if a major humanitarian crisis is to be avoided.

Recent assessment missions

The DPPC, in cooperation with the UN Country Team, organised four missions in June to the most severly affected areas of the country. Although these were "non-food" missions organised to determine the most urgent non-food needs in connection with the drought, all missions reported that increased food distributions were the top prioirty in all areas visited, stating that, "this requirement will override all other non-food needs". Along with increased relief distributions the teams noted that signficantly more supplementary food was needed if the downward sprial in malnutrition were to be stopped. In a few particularly badly affected areas the situation has derteriorated to such an extent that therapeutic feeding centers may have to be established.

A very brief summary of the main findings of the missions is given below:

North and South Wello

The UN/DPPC assessment mission returned on 25 June and reported that although food distributions had increased, the situation remained extremely precarious with conditions in South Wello being particularly severe. Stress migration, although it has tapered off and people have begun to return to their homes with the arrival of relief food, started as early as January and February and the Zonal authorities estimated that by April over 12,000 people had migrated from their home weredas.

Local health facilities also reported increasing rates of malnutrition and little or no supplementary food available for distribution. Other signs of extreme stress included poor terms of trade, sale of assets, increased firewood sales accompanied with declining firewood prices and higher dropout rates from schools than normal.

The team also reported that the condition of livestock in South Wello was alarming with animal carcasses lining the road. The Zone estimates livestock deaths of over 38,000 between January and April but this may be a very conservative figure as both Legambo and Tenta weredas each reported over 20,000 livestock deaths. Although recent rains have brought some relief to other areas of the country, South Wello was still dry at the time of the mission's visit - so dry in fact that domestic animals, together with baboons, were seen to be scratching in the dried fields in an attempt to find a few un-germinated seeds.

Wag Hamra

Wag Hamra is not a belg producing area itself but it has suffered from several successive years of poor meher harvests. The poor performance of the 1999 belg season has, however, had a significant impact on the population as many of the poorer families depend on labour opportunities in the surrounding belg producing areas to the north, east and south of the zone. These traditional employment opportunities come during the farmer's leanest time and during a period when there is little activity on their own land and form an important part of a family coping strategy. This year traditional labour migrations were replaced by stress migrations as whole households began to move when they realised that the harvest would not cover their needs until the next season.

Other indicators of a deteriorating situation include a decline in nutrition status noted by the SCF/UK Nutritional Surveillance Program, increased firewood sales, the sale of dung for the first time, decreases in school attendance and increasingly poor terms of trade between livestock and grain with oxen and cows prices falling over the last few years from 700/600 birr per animal around 400 birr and lower. Interestingly and of some relief to the farmers, shoat prices have remained relatively constant as livestock traders from Tigray have been buying up sheep and goats. However, even though shoat prices have not declined, high grain prices still mean that farmers must sell three shoats in order to buy 50 kgs of grain.

South Tigray

A poor meher harvest followed by the failure of this year's belg has affected six weredas in South Tigray and of these the DPPC/UN mission was told that Ofla, Alamata and Raya Azebo were considered the most severely affected. Although food shortages were noted as early as January 1999, because of lack of supplies, distributions were not started until March. Also, with the increase in beneficiaries, available rations had to be spread more and more thinly and in many cases zonal authorities are only in a position to provide half rations. The zonal authorities also noted that even the current (27 May) beneficiary figures might have to be increased. Water supplies in these three severely affected weredas were also noted as an issue with some communities even having to institute water-rationing systems.

As with the other missions, the South Tigray team noted that the key to solving the current crisis was to increase relief distributions and provide supplementary food for malnourished children. Although increased food was considered the absolute priority if mass migrations were to be avoided, other important interventions included improving and expanding health services and the repair of selected water points.

East Harerge

As early as October 1998 the UN EUE reported unusual migrations out of East Harerge as families moved south to Jijiga in search of relief food distributions. Although this flow was eventually stemmed, a follow-up EUE mission at the end of April noted that stress migrations had started again with people now moving to urban centers in search of food or labor opportunities. The most recent DPPC/UN mission found that there was still considerable movement of people with some returning home while others remained congregated around distribution centers and urban towns.

Initially food insecurity problems were most acute in the lowland areas of East Harerge but with the poor performance of the belg rains other areas of the zone began to face increasing hardship. Although the exact number of people needing relief assistance remains confused, the DPPC 27 May beneficiary figure of 572,000 would appear to be a minimum number. The DPPC/UN mission also found it difficult to obtain accurate information on relief distributions but in any case it was obvious to the mission that the limited availability of food during the previous three or four months had had a negative impact on the population. As usual, children and mothers were particularly affected by food shortages and increased rates of malnutrition were noted in all the weredas visited.


Welayita, although green and fertile, is considered to be one of the most food insecure areas of the country. Small landholdings combined with a "hand-to-mouth" existence because of complete reliance on the next crop make this area particularly vulnerable to "green famines". This year the short rains in October/November were poor and disrupted the planting of the sweet potato crop which, along with enset (false banana), are an important staple in Welayita, normally filling the major part of the food gap during the hungry season that precedes the belg harvest in July/August.

The DPPC/UN non-food assessment mission that recently visited Welayita noted that numerous children and mothers in the most severely affected weredas were suffering from malnutrition. Signs of severe stress included the absence of any food stocks at the household level, sale of assets and even the dismantling of homes in order to sell the timber to buy food,

deteriorating terms of trade, increased dropouts from schools and numerous cases of acute malnutrition. This mission, as with the other three missions, noted that increased regular food distributions and supplementary food were essential. Because of the rapid decline in the nutritional status of children, therapeutic feeding may have to be undertaken in some areas of Welayita.

Konso Special Wereda

Konso Special Wereda has a population of about 186,000 in 29 PAs of which 22 are reported to affected (10 seriously, 8 moderately and 4 mildly.) Konso has suffered successive years of drought and poor harvests and this year the rains were particularly poor, either being excessive or, in the case of this year's belg, almost a complete failure.

The DPPC/UN mission reported that conditions were severe with many chronic and acute cases of malnutrition among children and that the weredas had little food to meet the immediate crisis. (Because of very limited stocks, only about 6 kgs per household were distributed in the two previous distributions). Although this was a "non-food" mission, it was obvious to the mission members that the highest priority was to increase basic ration distributions. The mission also noted that without increased basic rations any supplies of supplementary foods will be consumed by the general population rather than the children and mothers.

Because there has been little or no food distributions over the last few years the local population has relied more and more heavily on wild foods. Although an effective short-term coping strategy, wild foods are not a substitute for regular rations and the nutritional status of both children and adults has deteriorated sharply. In addition to the significant increase in the consumption of "famine foods", other signs of stress included numerous cases of severe malnutrition and the sale of assets.


In view of the alarming situation developing in many areas of the country the United Nations Country Team is planning to issue a special appeal in early July highlighting both the urgent need for additional food pledges as well as the critical "non-food" inputs needed to contain the situation. However, as time is short, donors are urged to respond to the DPPC's food appeal and WFP's Emergency Operation for the drought affected without delay.


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.

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