UNDP-EUE: Food to South Welo, 08/99

Food deliveries to South Welo increased,

but targeting remains a problem

(Mission: 22 - 27 August 1999)

Laura Hammond and Walter Eggenberger, Field Officers, UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia


South Welo zone is one of the six areas identified in 1999 by the Federal Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) as being severely affected by food shortage. Of the total population of 2.1 million in the zone, 876,466 people have been identified as being in need of food assistance for the remainder of this year. Reasons for the food shortage are attributed to near total failure of the 1999 belg harvest, repeated damage to meher crops over the past three years (particularly late season losses in 1998 caused by excessive and erratic rainfall), localized pest infestations, and limited availability of food assistance during the first half of this year. Conditions in the worst affected areas of the country (which in addition to South Welo include North Welo, Wag Hamra, South Tigray, East Harerghe, Welayita and Konso) have led to increasing destitution, with households having lost most of their assets and food stocks to the point that they are now unable to meet their monthly household food requirements.

In July 1999, the DPPC issued revised beneficiary and food requirement figures: 5 million people throughout the country are now estimated to be affected by drought, requiring a total of 386,586 MT of food assistance between June and December. The World Food Programme (WFP) has organized an Emergency Operation for 103,253 MT to assist 1.2 million people in eight regions, of which 97,220 MT in pledges had been confirmed as of September 7. The other member agencies of the UN Country Team have issued a coordinated Action Plan and Appeal for assistance in the sectors of health, water and sanitation, and agriculture. Proposed inputs total US$7.5 million. Of this amount, $2.2 million in pledges have been confirmed thus far.

As part of its ongoing monitoring role for the present emergency throughout the country, the UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia sent a mission to South Welo from August 22-27 to assess the current status of food aid supply to the zone, the early season development of the meher crop, and to gather additional information on the food and nonfood needs of people affected by crop failure in the zone. The team met with officials in the zonal administration and travelled to Legambo and Ambassel weredas where discussions were held with local authorities.

The findings of the mission can be summarized as follows:

* Deliveries of food to the zone have increased starting in June and total allocations are now being provided to weredas on a regular basis.

* Despite the increased food availability at wereda level, problems with targeting persist and ration-reduction is common.

* Although it started late, the rains in South Welo have been good to heavy, creating favourable conditions for crop growth in many areas, although waterlogging, pest infestations, and a switch to short-cycle, lower-yielding crops have already resulted in some reduction in overall production targets.

* An outbreak of relapsing fever has been brought under control in Dessie town and at least one other wereda, thanks to the timely action of the zonal health department.

* Stress migration has largely stopped in the zone, although a modest degree of unusual labour migration continues in some areas.

Food deliveries to the zone have improved since June

In Dessie, the mission team met with the South Welo Labour and Social Affairs Department representative from the Zonal Administration and the head of the zonal Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Department (DPPD), who confirmed that all weredas in South Welo are now receiving the total monthly amount of food allocated to them by the region (approximately 13,000 MT).[1] This has enabled wereda officials to make more frequent distributions.

Zonal officials report that in four weredas the number of people in need has risen over the past few months, and the allocation (set in June) is said to be insufficient. These weredas are: Wereilu, Mekdela, Sayint, and Tehuledere. Each of these weredas is said to require food for between additional 10-12,000 beneficiaries. According to the zonal officials, food could be made available to these weredas by diverting it from other weredas where the Amhara Regional Food Security Programme has planned food for work projects to begin soon. In this case, they assume all of the food allocated by the DPPC may not be needed in these areas, since the food for work projects will also target the most vulnerable. The DPPD has thus proposed to the Region to divert relief grain intended for distribution through employment generation schemes (EGS) from these weredas to be distributed in the four weredas where deficits exist. Alternatively, they suggest that the DPPB could increase the allocation to the four needy weredas and leave the allocations in the other areas as they are. Food requirements for the other weredas are not expected to be reduced until at least November/December when the first meher crops are harvested.

Targeting remains a problem throughout the zone

During the first half of 1999, limited food availability resulted in the reduction of ration sizes at the distribution sites. With the increase in food deliveries to the affected areas, it was thought that this practice could be stopped, and that each beneficiary would receive the total ration prescribed for them (12.5 kg/person/month) by government policy. However, despite the increase in food deliveries to the zone, the practice of reducing ration sizes or of distributing fewer rations per household than that which they are entitled to has continued. In each place that the mission visited, beneficiaries complained, and wereda official confirmed, that most households were receiving less than one ration per person. Rather, the distribution to household heads resembled the following pattern:

Number of household members: Number of rations given:

1-2 1 or 2

3 2

4 3

5 4

6 or more no more than 5

Wereda officials and staff of the Organization for Relief and Development in Amhara Region (ORDA) say that they have been instructed (by whom was not made clear) not to distribute rations for households of more than five members. This was likely to have been a directive made during the first half of the year when limited food availability did require a choice between reducing the individual household ration size and reducing the number of beneficiaries. It is also possible that officials responsible for distribution had interpreted the figure of five as the average size of a household for the maximum allowable size of a household's rations. The effect is that individuals are currently receiving on average one half to two thirds of the ration prescribed for them in the NPDPM Guidelines.

Reducing rations during the second half of the year when more food assistance is available enables the weredas to increase the number of individuals receiving food, albeit in inadequate amounts. In Ambassel wereda during June, 1,036 MT was delivered and distributed to 34,873 households, but in July, when the amount of food delivered was slightly less, at 970 MT, the number of beneficiary households increased to 37,970. Average number of two rations, or 25 kg, per household was distributed in July.[2] While partial rations may in fact assist those less poor farmers (defined in most cases as those with one or more plough animals) to make up the deficit in their household food supply, for the most poor and vulnerable, receiving a partial ration does little or nothing to improve their nutritional status or to prevent their slide into more severe destitution. This matter is exacerbated in some areas, such as Legambo wereda, where it was reported that those who received white (locally purchased) sorghum suffered from digestion problems. People were observed in the Akeste market (capital of Legambo) selling individual portions of white sorghum in order to purchase other, more desirable but also more expensive grains.

An indication of the inadequacy of the ration currently being given is the fact that several weredas are requesting supplementary food to be distributed. WFP and Save the Children-UK are providing limited amounts of supplementary food through the DPPD to children under five and pregnant and lactating women. SCF-UK says that its stocks are low and it is only able to distribute 100 g/ person/day, or 3 kg/month. Rations will be provided to those women and children identified in the wereda beneficiary lists, through regular DPPD distribution. The League of Red Cross Societies is also distributing supplementary food in two weredas through the Ethiopian Red Cross Society.

Supplementary food (in this case high energy biscuits, blended foods, oil and pulses)[3] is usually only given in addition to full rations. It is generally more expensive and less available than cereals. While it is certain that some individuals in South Welo do need supplementary food to rehabilitate their nutritional status, it is not clear to what extent supplementary food would be needed if full basic rations were being distributed to each beneficiary.

Despite the inadequacy of the rations, it seems clear that food aid has made a difference in stemming stress migration (characterized by movement of entire households). Stress migration to urban areas in the zone and elsewhere has reportedly virtually stopped, partially as a result of the DPPD having transported people back to their home weredas and distributing one-off food rations. Unusually high rates of labour migration, however, continue due to the inadequacy of the ration. Men from Tenta wereda interviewed on the road in Legambo wereda said that they were on their way to Dessie to look for work because the grain ration they received was insufficient to enable them to stay on their farms. These men had left their wives and children at home, and planned to return to harvest their crops.

Agricultural conditions good, but some crop reductions expected

Despite a late start to this year's kiremt rains (upon which the meher crop depends), rainfall during July and August has been normal to heavy. In many areas this has led to good crop development. In other areas waterlogging and pest infestation has already affected crop yields. In addition, the late start to the rains compelled some farmers to plant shorter cycle variants of the same crop or entirely different crop types (beans, chickpeas, potatoes). For example, in Ambassel, many farmers reportedly planted wedi aker, a type of sorghum commonly grown in the northwest Humera area that has a six month cycle, rather than degalit, which has a nine month cycle. The former's expected yield is 8-10 quintals (1 quintal=100 kg) per hectare as opposed to 14-15 quintals per hectare for the latter. For these reasons, even if the rainfall continues to be favorable, some fall in production may be expected.

Generally, however, local officials say that as long as late-season crop damage does not occur as it did last year, they expect a reasonable harvest. Legambo wereda reportedly received 490,400 birr for this year's meher and next year's belg season seed purchases. 162,000 birr was distributed on a credit basis to 1,787 meher farmers and it is expected that the remainder will be used for the 2000 belg season. Wereda officials are still concerned that the amount of money is not suffiicient to cover all of the seed needs for the next year.

For this year's meher, however, cultivated land is not significantly reduced from last year. Wheat and teff seeds were offered to farmers on a credit basis as part of a revolving fund by the Zonal Department of Agriculture in an FAO-funded project. Some chickpea seed distributions were also made.

In some of the belg areas, the start of the meher rains resulted in the germination of seeds that had been planted in January but had not grown. Barley shoots between three and four inches high could be seen, although farmers said that this was not sufficient growth for them to expect to be able to harvest the grain, since October often brings hailstorms and frost in the extreme highlands. Instead, they plan to use the stalks for fodder. In other belg areas, farmers chose to plant their crops late. Barley in Dessie Zuria wereda had been planted in June rather than in January. While crop stands appeared to be good, waterlogging and infestation of head smut were observed in about 10% of the crop. In addition, an infestation of Quelea birds (Quelea quelea, a migratory bird with enormous potential to damage crops) was observed; more than thirty men, women and children were seen throwing stones and rigging scarecrows, plastic bags, and ropes across the tops of the plants to drive off the birds, without effect. Many farmers were harvesting the barley while it was still green in an effort to reduce their losses In Ambassel wereda, some head smut was reported, as was a disease known in Amharic as armaz which retards the growth of the barley plant and prevents it from reaching full maturation. Samples of affected plants have been sent to the Regional Bureau of Agriculture for analysis.

In South Welo, where the average landholding size is 0.5 - 0.75 hectares per household, it is extremely difficult for a household to produce a harvest large enough to cover its food and nonfood (cash) needs. Localized crop losses that might seem very small in the aggregate can spell disaster for small-scale farmers.

Livestock conditions improved through fodder provision

Livestock losses in South Welo were extremely high during the first half of 1999. A DPPC/UN mission at the end of June recorded seeing more than eighty-five carcasses (of mostly horses and cattle) lying along the side of the road in Legambo wereda alone. Other severely affected weredas included Tenta and Dessie Zuria. During the current mission, Legambo wereda officials estimated that 16% of the cattle, 33% of the shoat (sheep and goat), and 21% of the equine population (mostly horses) had been lost to the drought.

In an attempt to stop further losses of livestock, during the months of July and August a fodder provision scheme using by-products donated by the Kombolcha Brewery (BGI Ethiopia plc) was established by the zonal Department of Agriculture and DPPD. The byproduct was transported to the most severely affected weredas. It is expected that UNDP, through FAO, will reimburse the Department of Agriculture for the project, since funds had to be diverted from other agriculture programs to pay for the emergency transport. Farmers were instructed in the methods of drying the feed. The animals apparently had no difficulty in accepting the fodder, and farmers in the area said that they believed that the scheme helped to improve the condition of the livestock. The Department of Agriculture also provided vaccination for blackleg and pasteurellosis, as well as treatment for internal and external parasites. The project has now been suspended due to lack of resources, improved conditions of the grazing land, and difficult road access to the areas.

According to the Department of Agriculture Head, the farmers appreciated the fact that the government was trying to help them before they lost everything, and that it realized that helping the animals was equivalent to helping the people as well. The zonal administration said that the project was so successful that it would like to do a cost-benefit analysis of the feasibility of continuing the project in non-drought times as an income generation project.

The pastureland in the area is now being regenerated, and livestock appear to be in a much better condition now. The mission team observed that there were relatively very few equines and cattle grazing in the fields, however. Many farmers in Legambo said that they had lost all of their horses (the main animals used for ploughing). The possibility of providing herd restocking assistance for the next season may have to be further examined. Meanwhile, the price of livestock is reportedly increasing: in Legambo, the average price of an ox is 250 - 300 birr, up from 80-100 birr in June.

Relapsing fever outbreak brought under control

An outbreak of relapsing fever reported during 1 June - 15 August amongst the displaced people in Dessie who had been spending the nights in the market place (Sanyo Gabaya) has been brought under control according zonal health officials. The zonal health department attempted to provide them with free treatment (as destitutes are entitled to free treatment), but did not have adequate supplies of needles and syringes, and many of those affected could not afford to purchase these materials in the private pharmacies. 125 of the most serious cases were admitted and/or treated by the Dessie hospital where the provision of food and medical care helped them to recover more quickly. 108 of these individuals were said to be displaced persons. The Department of Health also solicited a donation from the Ethiopian Evangelical Church/Mekane Yesus to buy fabric and the hospital tailor made new clothes for the displaced to replace those which had to be burned due to lice infestation. The return of the displaced to their home areas helped to stem the outbreak, as earlier attempts to treat patients had been thwarted by the fact that they had been returning from the hospital to the crowded and unhygienic marketplace shelters. The zonal health department confirmed the deaths of seven patients.

Suspected outbreaks of relapsing fever, typhus and typhoid were also reported in the rural areas of Ambassel wereda. Outbreaks of these diseases typically occur during the dry season, when people have limited access to clean water, lice and other insect infestation becomes more common, and the population is in a weakened nutritional state. According to the wereda health officer, 666 suspected cases of acute fever were reported between the months of April and June. Some laboratory testing was done to confirm the existence of these illnesses, though all cases could not be confirmed. The wereda said that it did not have adequate drugs to treat all cases, and that the outbreak subsided with the onset of the rains.

Local officials are concerned that a further epidemic of malaria could strike at the end of the rainy season. Last year, 141,841 were diagnosed with malaria; of these, 140 were reported to have died. Local health officials have undertaken spraying programmes in Kombolcha and Harbu, as well as some of the lowland kebeles, but they have not received supplementary supplies (sprays, bednets or drugs) to cope with the problem if it recurs.

EPI programmes have been ongoing, although coverage has been limited by shortage of cold storage supplies, needles and syringes, and transport. There is reportedly no shortage of vaccines. In addition to the basic retinue of vaccines given (BCG, DPT1 and DPT3), measles vaccines are given in some areas. In Dessie town, 70% of the target population was vaccinated for measles. In Ambassel wereda, more than 100% of the target population was reported to be served.

Some NGOs are reportedly providing supplementary medical support to the weredas in which they are working. World Vision International, for example, is said to be providing 50,000 birr worth of drugs purchased on the local market for Tenta wereda, its project area.

14 September 1999

UNDP-EUE Tel.: (251) (1) 51-10-28/29

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

Addis Ababa, e-mail:


[1] DPPC figures.

[2] ORDA representative, Ambassel wereda.

[3] Internationally, oil and pulses usually considered to be essential elements of the basic food basket, but in Ethiopia cereals only are given as basic ration except in areas where nutritional status is severely deteriorated.