UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
4.6 million people in need of food relief
According to the new appeal, the total number of people now requiring relief assistance is estimated at a minimum of 4.6 million, an increase of 1.4 million over and above the previous estimate released in April. According to the DPPC, some regional governments consider even the new estimates to be low, suggesting that the number of people needing food assistance could be as high as 5 million.
The new figures include people affected by the poor performance of the 1998 meher harvest (largely as a result of unseasonally heavy rains and hail late in the season), drought conditions in some lowland areas of the Somali Region and southern Ethiopia, and some 385,000 people affected by the conflict with Eritrea (both internally displaced and people forced to flee Eritrea). The total number of people requiring relief assistance as a result of the belg failure alone is put at just under 2 million.
DPPC estimate relief grain assistance amounting to just under 360,000 metric tonnes will be needed for the seven month period, June to December. Including food allocated by WFP for people displaced by the conflict, relief food resources (including confirmed pledges) amounting to a total of 83,248 metric tonnes are currently available. With these commitments, the DPPC have recently arranged substantial loans of grain from the Emergency Food Security Reserve (EFSR), making possible the pre-positioning of at least 40,000 metric tonnes of grain in areas which will become inaccessible during the coming main rains, July to September. These supplies have started moving from EFSR warehouses to the areas most in need but the availability and cost of transport remains a serious constraint. In this regard, the Government has allocated a budget of Birr 41 million (approximately US $ 5.1 million) to cover the transport and administration costs of food pledged by the EU and under the US Title III programme.
Taking into account resources at hand and in the pipeline, DPPC are appealing for an additional 275,702 metric tonnes of food assistance, relief food which is urgently needed to ensure an uninterrupted flow of assistance to the areas in need until at least the main, meher season harvest is successfully concluded in December.
Based on the latest needs assessments and today's updated figures released by the DPPC, the UN World Food Programme has re-submitted a proposal for a new emergency operation (EMOP) to its Rome headquarters. This EMOP, approval of which is expected shortly, will aim to mobilise food resources sufficient to meet up to 30 percent of the needs of the drought affected population over the coming half year. While a number of donors have already indicating an interest in making a contribution to the operation, these will have to be confirmed and implemented quickly once the EMOP has been formally approved. Meanwhile, additional donor contributions are being urgently sought for the existing WFP emergency operation for war displaced civilians, which recently commenced in Tigray. Currently, the operation is facing a short-fall of more than 32,600 metric tonnes.
While efforts are being made to pre-position and distribute food resources that are already available, according to the new appeal the inadequate international response to the DPPC's previous appeals for food assistance has severely undermined the effectiveness of the emergency response to date. In parts of North and South Welo, unusual migrations of whole families searching for food or employment opportunities, a phenomenon not seen for a number of years, have taken place, leading to concentrations of rural people in some urban areas. Levels of malnutrition are rising and a significant fall in livestock prices has been recorded. Other indicators of increasing stress noted by the DPPC and other observers in Welo include the consumption of wild plants, a decline in school attendance and a rise in mortality and morbidity. According to the latest assessments, an estimated 841,640 people need food assistance in North and South Welo and North Shewa as a result of the failure of the belg rains alone.
According to the findings of the recent multi-agency pre-harvest assessment, the implications of the failure of the belg rains are likely to be far reaching. For belg-growing areas in northern Amhara region and Tigray - as well as some areas in Oromiya Region, it is the second or third successive year that the belg has performed poorly. An inadequate relief response in the past has forced farmers to sell off assets and a trend of increasing impoverishment and vulnerability has clearly developed. The belg rains are also important for the planting of long-cycle maize and sorghum, which nation-wide account for around 40 percent of total annual grain production. Concerns over the failure of the belg and possible impact on meher production later in the year has already been reflected in the wholesale and retail grain markets where prices of maize, sorghum, wheat and teff have all shown a significant rise in the past two months.
An area of new concern is Wolaita in southern Ethiopia. Fertile but heavily over-populated, Wolaita is considered to be one of the most food insecure areas of the country and last suffered a serious crisis in 1994. While the meher season in the south was generally satisfactory last year, the short rains in October/November were poor and disrupted the planting of the sweet potato crop in Wolaita. Along with enset (false banana), sweet potatoes are an important staple in Wolaita, normally filling the major part of the food gap during the hungry season that precedes the belg harvest in July/August. Unfortunately, following the bad start, this year's crop of potatoes has largely failed and little harvest is expected. An assessment conducted by SCF-UK in March/April has disclosed a rapid decline in the nutritional status of children, showing a trend not dissimilar to the same period in 1994. Past experience has shown that food security in Wolaita is extremely precarious and the current situation is becoming a matter of considerable concern. Of the new needs indicated for the Southern Region (SNNPR), 251,000 people are considered to be at special risk in Wolaita (North Omo Zone) and in need of food relief support until at least the end of 1999.
The DPPC are planning further assessments during June, covering pastoral areas of the Afar and Somali regions. In Afar, there is concern that the poor belg rains will have had a negative impact on food security along the western escarpment where water run-off from the highlands is necessary to rejuvenate the grasslands and replenish water resources. In the Somali region, an assessment mission is planned to determine the degree to which the current gu rains may have ameliorated the serious drought conditions seen earlier in the year.
UNDP-Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia
May 27, 1999