FAO/WFP Crop Production and Food Needs Assessment Mission

Weekly Press Update of the UN Country Team

on the current drought situation in Ethiopia

18 April 2000


Mission of UN Special Envoy Catherine Bertini

Catherine Bertini, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on the Drought in the Greater Horn of Africa, visited Ethiopia last week from 11 to 15 April. The Special Envoy was accompanied by senior officials from the World Food Program, World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, UNICEF and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The visit to Ethiopia was an important part of a mission that will also take in Djibouti, Eritrea and Kenya. Special Envoy Bertini was appointed on 30 March by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and given the task of raising awareness and understanding of the drought crisis facing the Horn of Africa among the international community and recommending how the humanitarian response can be strengthened.

As well as holding discussions with the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission, donors and the NGO community, accompanied by the UN Resident Coordinator for Ethiopia, Samuel Nyambi, and WFP Representative and Country Director, Judith Lewis, the mission of the Special Envoy also visited Gode in Somali region where relief interventions are beginning to gather momentum. In Addis Ababa, Catherine Bertini met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and OAU Secretary-General, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim. During her audience with the Prime Minister Special Envoy Bertini gave an undertaking that the United Nations would do everything possible to work alongside international donors, the Government and Ethiopian people in helping to avert a major humanitarian crisis.

Meeting with the UN Country Team prior to concluding her mission, Special Envoy Catherine Bertini highlighted the importance she placed on building an effective response to the daunting humanitarian challenges facing the country, a response that she said should be based on partnership, collaboration and collective action. "I firmly believe that together we can prevent this crisis from becoming a catastrophe; the key will be strong and effective coordination among all concerned, backed by the full support of the international donor community."

The UN Country Team highlighted the very positive impact Bertini’s mission had already achieved with regard to raising donor awareness of the critical needs in the country. According to WFP Representative and Country Director, Judith Lewis, donors were making efforts to bring forward the delivery of food pledges announced earlier this year while many were also expected to announce additional pledges shortly. In the past week, UNICEF has received indications of new pledges for priority interventions in health, water and other urgent non-food sectors amounting to over US $3.5 million. Meanwhile, with the heightened donor interest in addressing all aspects of the current crisis, WHO will be working with the Ministry of Health to seek urgent donor funding for US $6.5 million worth of emergency medical supplies and assistance to be channelled to the 16 worst affected zones of the country over the coming three months.

Recognizing that many of the factors underlying the present crisis require long-term solutions, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also established a high-level inter-agency Task Force on the drought to be convened immediately following the conclusion of Special Envoy Bertini’s visit to the region. It is anticipated that the Task Force will work closely with governments of the region and national and international organizations to identify a set of comprehensive strategies to tackle the longer-term issues of food security and drought mitigation in the Horn of Africa.

Update on current situation

The situation in Ethiopia with regard to drought relief operations remains precarious. Food availability remains the key concern as food relief deliveries and distributions to the most affected areas, including the Somali region, begin to accelerate. According to the latest information released by the UN World Food Program, to date, over 57 percent of cereals and 30 percent of blended food requirements have been pledged against the total food aid requirement in Ethiopia for 2000. While donor response to the WFP emergency operation (EMOP 6218) has been generous (as of 18 April over 60 percent of the cereal requirements have been pledged), bilateral donor support to the Government is still relatively low (some 50,000 metric tons). In addition, approximately 103,000 metric tons have been pledged by donors through international NGOs.

According to government officials, the current stocks at hand at the Emergency Food Security Reserve (EFSR) are approximately 50,000 metric tons with an additional 41,000 metric tons presently under withdrawal for distribution. According to the latest shipping bulletins, deliveries of food aid to the ports of Djibouti and Berbera will begin to increase significantly in the weeks ahead. For the months of April, May and June, a total of 400,000 metric tons of food aid is expected to arrive at Djibouti alone, of which around 130,000 metric tons will be repaid to the Emergency Food Security Reserve against loans taken out during relief operations in 1999. Given that these repaid stocks will be immediately borrowed again to meet urgent needs, EFSR stocks are likely to remain low over the coming months.

Faced with the prospect of significant food aid deliveries to Djibouti in the months prior to the main rains in June, concerns have been expressed regarding the ability of the port to efficiently handle the volume of food expected. WFP is taking steps to enhance the handling capacity of the port through a US $2.6 million special operation, which will include improvements to berth number 13, and the construction of a moveable warehouse facility. Another special operation, budgeted at US $3.5 million, will be used to finance emergency repairs to three key sectors of the critical Djibouti – Gallafi road which is the main road linking the port to the border with Ethiopia. Both projects are viewed as very important and additional donor cash support is being sought.

In addition to food assistance, immediate access to safe water and emergency health interventions are essential to control diarrhoea and the spread of life-threatening communicable diseases such as measles. The pre-positioning of essential drugs and health supplies is seen as especially critical in the drought-affected lowlands of Somali region and Borena and South Omo in southern Ethiopia due to fears that mortality among the already weakened population may dramatically increase should the main gu rains commence in the coming weeks. Heavy rains could lead to the development of unsanitary conditions in many of the locations where needy people are presently congregating, giving rise to possible serious outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and other life-threatening conditions.

Responding to the crisis in central areas of the Somali region, in the past week UNICEF has airlifted nearly a ton of essential drugs and other urgent medical supplies to Gode, the current epi-centre of the drought. An additional 12 metric tons of health and emergency shelter supplies are en-route to Gode by road. In the past few days, WHO received emergency health kits with supplies sufficient for 40,000 people. Meningitis vaccines are also being pre-positioned in readiness for a possible outbreak and WHO will also be providing drugs and technical assistance to health facilities in areas identified as most seriously affected by the drought. Water remains a priority in all lowland areas and the UN Country Team continues to emphasize to donors the importance of supporting this component of the Government relief appeal as well as responding to requests from the UN and NGO community.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern that the critical needs that have emerged in parts of the Somali region may soon be repeated further south in Borena, adjacent to the Kenyan border. Recent surveys among pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in this zone indicate very high levels of wasting and malnourishment among children under five years of age. In addition, there is evidence that mortality amongst breeding animals has been very high during recent months due to a shortage of pasture and water. As a result, there has been little or no milk production in the area. Still more worrying is the abnormal market in the area where grain prices are presently 75 – 100% higher than the previous two years, while the price of cattle – the mainstay of the local economy – has decreased significantly. Given these warning indicators it is essential that current relief operations, including the trucking of emergency water supplies, are continued and, if necessary, expanded.

While some rain fell over the highlands of Ethiopia towards the end of March and first few days of April, these were generally considered too little and too late for the upwards of 2 million farmers who are wholly or partially dependent on the belg rains for producing a crop. While some belg farmers will plant now that the rains have recommenced, these crops may be destroyed through water-logging and heavy rain in June/July before they are ready for harvest. The rains that have fallen in the past few days have, however, brought some welcome relief to parts of Haraghe where pressure on diminishing water supplies and grazing had been noted in some lowland areas bordering the Somali region.

While erratic and poorly distributed, the recent rains may also have benefited farmers in the central highlands who are now ploughing and preparing for the main planting season which begins a few weeks from now. While it is usual for the belg rains to reach a peak mid-April, meteorologists say weather patterns this year to date have been far from normal. The expected seasonal interaction of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone with frontal systems moving from North Africa which should produce an area of low pressure over the Horn of Africa did not occur as expected and not only has this disrupted the belg rains, the current climatic configuration does not augur well for the gu rains in the south and south-eastern Ethiopia either, rains which should commence before the end of April.


For more information please contact any of the following members of the UN Country Team:

(all numbers prefixed with +251 1, if calling from outside Ethiopia)


Office of the UN Resident Coordinator: 51-10-27 (fax: 51-51-47)

World Food Program: 51-51-88 (fax: 51-44-33)

UNICEF: 51-51-55 (fax: 51-16-28)

WHO: 51-40-31 (fax: 53-15-50)

FAO: 51-72-33 (fax: 51-52-66)

UNHCR 61-28-22 (fax: 61-16-66)

UNDP: 51-51-77 (fax: 51-45-99)

UNFPA: 51-19-80 (fax: 51-53-11)

IOM: 51-16-73 (fax: 51-49-00)

UNESCO: 51-39-53 (fax: 51-14-14)

UNIDO: 51-51-77 (fax: 51-27-33)

World Bank: 51-42-00 (fax: 51-14-41)

IMF: 51-14-11 (fax: 51-11-18)

ILO: 51-43-13 (fax: 51-45-99)

UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia 51-37-25 (fax: 51-12-92)