Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

May 1999



General Events and Developments

Livestock development project launched: Ethiopia has launched a 5 year national livestock development project which is to be implemented in all regions of Ethiopia and include livestock production, animal health, forage production and project management. The project, which costs US $39 million, is to be funded jointly by the Ethiopian government and African Development Bank. Despite rich resources, the livestock sub-sector of Ethiopia provides the lowest per capita output of livestock products compared with other African countries. According to the acting Minister of Agriculture, Mengistu Huluka the low level of production is attributed to the poor genetic potential of the national herd, poor nutrition, disease-based stresses, unsatisfactory management and absence of appropriate market structures. He said "under such conditions it became impossible to fulfil the minimum requirements of consumers let alone catering the need of the agro-industries". Upon completion, the project is expected to produce 288,000 tons of milk, 43,400 tons of beef and mutton as well as 511,000 tons of fodder products annually. (Xinhua, 31 May)

Ethiopia and Kenya meet on border issues:. The 18th meeting of the joint Ethiopia-Kenya border commission was convened early June at Nazereth, some 90 kilometers south-east of the Ethiopian capital. The 19 member Kenyan delegation comprised officials from the ministry of defence, immigration, police and customs. The provincial commissioner of Kenya’s North Eastern Province headed the Kenyan delegation and at the opening of the meeting commented on recent activities by "anti-peace" elements along the border of the two countries, adding that 10 of the 11 terrorists of the Oromo Liberation Front found destabilising peace inside Kenya have been brought to justice. The head of the Ethiopian delegation, Vice Police Commissioner Alemseged Gebreamlak said that the two countries should intensify efforts to control insecurity along the common border. A similar Ethiopian delegation will visit Kenya before the end of this year for a further meeting on border relations. (Xinhua, 7 June; AFP, June 8)

 Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict update: Early May saw UN Special Envoy Mohammed Sahnoun continuing his efforts to forge a ceasefire between Ethiopia and Eritrea and prepare the way for the full implementation of the OAU framework agreement. According to news reports, on returning to New York, Sahnoun told the UN Security Council that he believed the gap between the two sides had narrowed, with Ethiopia willing to accept a ceasefire if Eritrea gave a formal pledge to withdraw from occupied territories within a fixed timetable. However, in what appeared to be a further escalation of the war, shortly before Sahnoun's return to New York Ethiopia announced that it had launched a series of air raids on Eritrean frontline positions and logistic bases around Zelambessa. These were followed by a dawn air attack on the strategically important Eritrean port of Massawa where naval facilities and the oil depot were targeted. The air raids were followed a few days later by reports of renewed military engagements on the border close to the disputed Badme area. According to official statements and news reports, the ground fighting flared up over the weekend of May 22 - 24 close to the Mereb River with both sides claiming to have inflicted heavy losses and blaming the other for initiating the battle. On May 30, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi warned in an interview published in the government monthly Abyotawi Democratie that his government would resort to force "if the invasion army does not withdraw in a peaceful manner." He claimed it would be just "a matter of time" before the Eritrean forces were routed. (AFP, May 16, 24, 27 & 30; Reuters, May 16 & 17; AP, May 19; Xinhua, May 19)

WFP seeks emergency aid for Ethiopia: The UN World Food Programme has approved a new US $40.5 million emergency operation to feed nearly 1.2 million drought–stricken people in Ethiopia. The operation, to run from June to December, aims to provide over 100,000 metric tonnes of emergency food to aid the most vulnerable sectors of the population affected by the recent failure of the short rains. (AFP June 4; WFP Press Release, June 4; Ethiopian Herald, June 5)

Livestock ban lifted: Saudi Arabia has lifted the ban on livestock imports from several countries in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, following confirmation from the World Health Organisation that the areas are now free of Rift Valley Fever. The ban was imposed last year following outbreaks of the disease in Kenya and Somalia and amid fears that the disease would spread across borders. Saudi Arabia can now resume the import of an estimated three million sheep and goats a year from the region. Meanwhile, on May 1 Ethiopia proclaimed itself a Rinderpest free zone in line with the International Animal Health Organisation criteria. The announcement from the Ministry of Agriculture said that the achievement was made possible through a 10-year inoculation campaign against Rinderpest initiated throughout 34 African countries. The initiative was a project organised by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and supported by the European Union. The Ministry said a recent surveillance conducted jointly by the OAU and relevant organisations from the 34 countries had shown that most of the target states, including Ethiopia, have arrested the disease. Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa. (Addis Tribune, June 4; Xinhua, 22 and 31; Ethiopian Herald, 23 May)

ICRC visits prisoners of war in Ethiopia: The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited some 300 Eritrean prisoners of war – captured since hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea resumed in February – at a transit camp in northern Ethiopia. The team registered the prisoners and interviewed them in private, between 17 and 19 April according to an ICRC press release dated May 7. In addition to the new prisoners, the Red Cross has continued to visit POWs and interned Eritrean civilians at Bilate camp in southern Ethiopia to verify that their living conditions comply with the rules of international humanitarian law. In Eritrea, the ICRC is pursuing its efforts to gain access to Ethiopian prisoners of war. (ICRC, May 7; IRIN, May 7)

Demining starts in northern Ethiopia: The Government of Ethiopia has released a report outlining the activities of the Ethiopian De-mining Project which has successfully de-mined 30,375 anti-personnel and 539 anti-vehicle landmines along the northern border with Eritrea following the recapture of the Badme area in February. Livestock and farming activity in the border zone has been seriously affected by the conflict which has displaced more than 300,000 people. The report indicates that large areas of farmland are expected to remain idle until all the mines are cleared. Landmines have reportedly so far killed 60 to 70 people and over 15,000 hectares of farmland remains idle in Badme, Gemhalo, Adiwala, Shebedina, Galwdeos, Mentebetelb and Adameyti because of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines. According to the Tahtay Adiabo Wereda Agriculture and Natural Resources Office, about 19,000 hectares of land in the zone remained idle last year because of the mines problem. (Washington Embassy of Ethiopia Press Release May 25; Ethiopian Herald, May 22; Other sources)

Opposition leader buried in Addis Ababa: Thousands of people packed Trinity Cathedral and adjoining Ethiopian Orthodox churches on May 26 for the funeral of Dr. Asrat Woldeyes who died in Philadelphia, USA. on May 15 from complications of a heart condition and general physical deterioration. Dr. Asrat was a practising physician in Ethiopia for 35 years and was the personal doctor of the late Emperor Haile Selassie. He entered politics in 1991, when he was chosen as a delegate to draft a provisional constitution after the overthrow of the 17-year dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Professor Asrat, as president of the All-Amhara Peoples Organisation, was charged and sentenced to a five-year prison term in Ethiopia on charges of encouraging armed insurrection in two speeches and was awaiting trial on a third similar charge when he collapsed on his way to court. The state prosecutor temporarily released him from jail in December to get medical treatment in the United States and later suspended the charges against him. His co-defendants were convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to 20 years. (AP May 26; AFP, May 27)

Cellular telephone system inaugurated: The Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), launched its new mobile telephone service to its subscribers in the capital Addis Ababa on April 27 but at an increase over the initially quoted subscription fees. About 14,000 subscribers - minus an unspecified number of Eritreans deported - had been registered by paying one third of the subscription fee quoted by ETC in 1998. According to press reports clients were surprised by the change in the 29 Ethiopian cents per minute rate originally quoted by ETC. The new rate of 75 cents per minute mobile call tariff was due to the declining exchange rate of the Birr against the US dollar and a relatively low number of registered subscribers according to the ETC External Relations manager Berhe Seyoum. (The Monitor, April 27; The Monitor, May 1-2)
Ethiopia signs road construction contracts: The China Road and Bridge Corporation and Korean Keangnan Enterprise Ltd. have won an international bidding competition to implement two road construction projects in Ethiopia. The two projects, worth US $76.7 million, will rebuild a 221 kilometer highway from Awash to Harar, via Dire Dawa and rehabilitate the 91 kilometer Hiran-Kulubi stretch of the same highway. The highway is the main road link between Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, an important centre for the movement of goods to and from the Red Sea port of Djibouti. The projects will be financed by a loan taken from the International Development Association. Ethiopia is currently implementing a US $3.4 billion, 10-year road development programme to rehabilitate a total of 24,000 kilometers of trunk and rural feeder roads. (Addis Tribune, June 7; Reuters, June 3; Ethiopian Roads Authority Press Release, May 17)

Agriculture and Weather

Following successive marginal harvests in recent years in the northern regions and a complete failure of this year's short (belg) rains, an acute shortage of food has emerged in many belg growing areas of the country. Faced with severe hunger, many people reportedly migrated to urban centres in search of food and work. Rural people most affected are the asset-poor with limited access to arable land, suffering low productivity and insufficient purchasing power to secure their food requirements from the market. Even in relatively good years such as the 1998 agricultural year, it is estimated that some 43% of rural, crop-based households in Ethiopia are food insecure to some degree owing to structural and climatic limitations and lack of sufficient off-farm employment.

In northern Ethiopia, opportunities for income from off-farm activities are minimal with a reduction of such possibilities in Tigray due to the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Since May 1998, the conflict has caused a reduction of agricultural production due to insecurity along the border areas from where tens of thousands of rural families have been displaced. In addition to a loss in agricultural production, farmers in the north have also been negatively affected by the cessation of cross border trade as a result of the ongoing conflict and migrants no longer have access to seasonal employment opportunities in Eritrea.

Migrating to lowland areas in search of waged labour opportunities is a typical coping mechanism but this migration largely takes place later in the year near harvest time (September–November). Abnormal out-migrations had been confirmed in many weredas visited by assessment missions earlier in March and April, with local officials reporting more than 13,000 persons out-migrating in South Tigray and North Welo alone. There have also been reports from several urban areas of an increased number of destitute people, particularly women and children, begging. In efforts to try and earn some cash they gather firewood to sell. There are also reports of farmers collecting firewood and either using this to make charcoal, or selling the fuel wood directly. As families out-migrate children are pulled from school and there has been an increase in the number of dropouts. With food aid distributions now well underway in the worst affected areas, the DPPC reports that people have now largely returned home.

Another coping mechanism is the sale of livestock. In some impoverished areas of Welo and South Tigray, however, people no longer have any livestock to sell. For those that do, poor terms of trade work against them with cereal prices increasing and livestock prices decreasing. Recent visitors to North Welo, however, report that sheep and goats are fetching a good price with merchants buying for onward delivery to Tigray. Many farmers in the affected areas have already sold their meagre assets and have nothing left. As a measure of the degree of desperation, some women and children in Amhara Region have started foraging for Sama, a wild nettle like plant, which is cooked into a paste.

Hararghe is another area where failure of production during the last meher season and subsequent irregularities of belg rains this year has aggravated the food insecurity situation. The poor harvest of Eastern Hararghe in November/December 1998 had resulted in out-migration in some weredas in the zone and with the failure of the belg rains in these areas, needs are expected to increase further. The short rains are very important for replenishing of pasture and water for livestock, particularly in the lowland and agro-pastoral areas of West and East Hararghe and East Shewa. Here, planting for the this year’s meher season has been delayed as a result of the poor belg rains. A recently completed DPPC-led assessment mission to Hararghe saw signs of a grave situation developing in the eastern zone, where large numbers of destitute people were again seen moving to urban centres in search of relief assistance.

The current food availability prospect is considered to be poor to very poor. Though current forecasts indicate a normal main rainy season (kiremt), plantings for the main season have already been delayed in many areas due to the poor or delayed belg rains, a situation that could reduce prospects for a good harvest later in the year. In much of Oromiya and the southern half of Amhara Region, April to June is the peak time for planting long cycle crops. The rains were not adequate for planting and too little for land preparation, which is essential for the effective application of fertiliser. Planting of maize and sorghum in much of western Oromiya has been delayed. The lack of rainfall to date means the opportunity for planting high yielding varieties has already passed and farmers will now be forced to plant short cycle (lower yielding) crops.

Weather update

Better rainfall activity was reported during the first dekad of May as compared to the previous dekads. A slight increase in wet weather relieved the prolonged dryness over eastern parts of Tigray and Amhara and normal rainfall activity was reported over central Ethiopia, Arsi zone and eastern Oromiya, changing the prevalent dry conditions observed during recent dekads. Sporadic heavy rainfall was reported over some parts of Tigray, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Western Oromiya, the Southern Region and Bale during early May with some areas of western and central Ethiopia exhibiting ranges of 34–58 mm in one rainy day. Below rainfall activity continued over Borena, and parts of Afar region. During the second dekad of May a slight decrease in rainfall activity was observed with most parts of the eastern half of the country exhibited less than 5 mm of rainfall. However, western parts of Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and western parts of Oromiya received falls ranging from 250-150 mm. During the latter part of the month there was little or no rainfall over most parts of Tigray and Afar, central Amhara and most parts of the Somali Region.

Fertiliser update

Fertiliser totalling 288,250 metric tonnes (181,250 MT DAP and 107,000 MT Urea) was scheduled for shipment to Ethiopia in 1999 of which 188,878 MT has already arrived and the remaining balance is in the pipeline. The total amount of fertiliser available for 1999 distribution and sales (1998 carryover and 1999 import) is 492,382 MT. Even with anticipated delays of the remaining balance of fertiliser imports due to possible port congestion, the available in-country stock is considered sufficient for 1999.

Food Aid and Logistics

Partly based on the recently completed belg pre-harvest assessment, on May 27 the Federal Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission released a revised relief appeal covering the period June to December 1999. According to the new appeal, the failure of the short (belg) rains this year has greatly contributed to the emergence of a serious food crisis in Welo and increased the vulnerability of a large number of rural families in other parts of Ethiopia. The new appeal updates figures given in the national appeal launched in December 1998 and consolidates figures given earlier in February and April.

The total number of people now requiring relief assistance is estimated at a minimum of 4.6 million. 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 poorer than expected 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 returning from Eritrea). The total number of people requiring relief assistance as a result of the belg failure alone is put at just under 2 million. Taking into account resources at hand and in the pipeline as of May 27, the Federal DPPC appealed 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.


Table I: Population needing assistance and relief food requirement
(June – December 1999)
Beneficiaries due to:
Relief Food
1998 meher failures
Addis Ababa
Other Regions
  (source: DPPC, May 27, 1999)
New pledges

In response to this appeal the UN World Food Programme launched a new emergency operation worth US $40 million. The operation is to last for seven months, June–December, and will target a total of 1,196,000 beneficiaries (excluding pastoralists and the displaced) with a particular focus on women, young children and the disabled. Donors are being requested to make cash and food contributions to the operations, which requires a total of just over 100,000 metric tonnes of food aid. While detailed distribution plans will be finalised between DPPC and the WFP, an estimated allocation of resources has been developed for the eight regions of Tigray, Amhara, Oromiya, and Hararghe, parts of Somali Region, certain zones in SNNPR, Gambella and Afar Region. The 1,196,000 beneficiaries of this EMOP represent approximately 31 percent of the total of 4.6 million requiring assistance.

FAO is to utilise US $840,000 donated in 1998 by the Belgium government for the purchase of 1,248 metric tonnes of wheat, 236 metric tonnes of teff and 11,200 basic farm tool packages consisting of one traditional plough, one plough hook and one sickle per package. The seeds and farm tools will be distributed to some 27,840 farm families in North and South Welo, Wag Hamra, Oromiya and North Shewa Zones of Amhara Region. Distribution of the assistance has commenced and should be completed by the end of July.

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development has recently approved a proposal by Save the Children Fund UK to provide 6,000 metric tonnes of food aid to six weredas of North and South Welo. The assistance will also include 486 metric tonnes of supplementary food and six Rubb Hall tents for the storage of food rations at extended distribution points (to reduce the distance walked by people in order to collect their rations). The Netherlands Government has also confirmed a pledge of 10,000 metric tonnes of food aid to be channelled through SCF-UK for northern Ethiopia. Both USAID and the European Union have submitted requests for additional food relief assistance to their respective headquarters and responses are anticipated shortly.

Port operations and logistics.

During the period 12 April to 10 May 1999 a total of 11,237 metric tonnes of food aid was transported from Djibouti port to various destinations within Ethiopia. From 13 May to 8 June there was no importation of WFP cargo. Food Aid Transport System (FATS) trucks were released from the second week of May to end of the first week of June when they were recalled to begin uplifting a new WFP shipment of 12,423 metric tonnes of wheat destined as a repayment to the Food Security Reserve. As of the end May, port stocks were no more than a few hundred tonnes of food aid. June is expected to be busy with several shipments of commercial wheat, food aid and fertiliser scheduled for arrival during the month (13,000 metric tonnes, 52,400 metric tonnes and 45,000 metric tonnes, respectively).

Delivery of food aid for war displaced in the northern parts of the country commenced during the third week of May and so far a total of 5,100 metric tonnes has been dispatched, equivalent to 96% of the planned May rations and 30% of June rations. Deliveries to Ba’eker and Bereket in the Western Zone of Tigray have since started. The operation is being handled by both long and short haul trucks after contracts were awarded to the three carriers: Tana, Joint Transport Operation of Oxfam and Save the Children Fund (UK) and Northern Freight. There continues to be a critical warehouse shortage in and around Mekele and Ba’eker in the Western Zone of Tigray. For security reasons WFP has been requested to dismantle its Rubb Hall storage tents in Mekele and is now seeking alternative arrangements. Meanwhile, Rubb Halls are being erected in Ba’eker and other end delivery points. The limited storage space at some end delivery points for IDP’s has forced a slow down in delivery rates to certain locations such as Shiraro.

Local purchase operations

Local purchase of maize and wheat under contracts to the European Union and Euronaid has commenced, with 4,500 metric tonnes and 3,000 metric tonnes delivered as of June 9, respectively. The relatively slow rate of delivery means that of contracts totally 84,000 metric tonnes, only 50 percent will be delivered by the end of August with all contracts expected to be completed by the end of October. With wholesale prices of maize and wheat climbing well above the import parity price, further tenders for local purchase are unlikely to be successful at this time. The potential for the local purchase of sorghum, however, remains good as sizeable stocks remain in the main growing areas in western Tigray and prices are competitive.

Health Issues: Meningitis

Ethiopia is located in the "African meningitis belt", (extending from Ethiopia in the east to Senegal in the west), where the largest epidemics of meningicoccal meningitis are experienced by sub-Saharan African countries. Although the disease is endemic in the temperate climates of western and north-western Ethiopia, the country has experienced epidemic cycles every eight to 12 years and the intervals between major epidemics have become shorter and more irregular since the beginning of the 1980’s. Ethiopia’s first major meningitis epidemic was in 1981 when almost all parts of the country were affected. The most recent major epidemic in Ethiopia was in 1989/90 when an outbreak spread rapidly from the west through the densely populated central Rift Valley area, reaching as far south as Borena and South Omo. According to official figures, more than 17,000 died during this epidemic – mostly children under the age of 10 and the elderly – but the actual figure was probably much higher. The epidemiology of the disease and climatic factors generally cause the largest number of cases during the months of April to June. In 1989/90, however, mortality peaked during the period November – January, the driest months of the year.

About 11 million people are at risk to meningitis epidemics in Ethiopia. During the month of April, in North Welo Zone of Amhara Region, 258 cases of Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis were registered with 8 deaths. In addition, in the nearby Alemata area of southern Tigray, 5 cases of meningitis were reported. In response to these cases, the regional health bureaux dispatched supplies of vaccine and additional medical personnel to assist the local authorities. Vaccines provided by the Tigray Regional Health Bureau have been used to immunise 2 – 30 year old children and students, heavily populated areas, including areas in Tigray hosting war displaced, military personnel and prisoners of war. So far in Welo and adjacent areas of Southern Tigray the Ministry of Health has vaccinated 70,000 – 80,000 people. The problems encountered in this preparatory exercise included the lack of emergency preparedness at the regional level with limited supplies of vaccines and budget required for logistics. Shortages of medicine and vaccine supplies have also been reported at the federal level. Responding to a request for assistance from the Ministry of Health, WHO has organised the procurement of 200,000 doses of meningitis A and C vaccines and 10,000 vials of antibiotics. Delivery of the supplies was expected once the Ministry of Health could make available the required cold storage facilities.

Based on information provided by the Ministry of Health, WHO has reported that the meningitis outbreak in Ethiopia has now been contained. The early arrival of rains and meteorological reports of a continued drop in temperature have also contributed to expectations that a large-scale epidemic has been avoided for the time being.

Refugees and Returnees

A WFP/UNHCR Joint Food Assessment Mission for the refugee programme was undertaken 26 April-7 May. Representatives from the Belgian embassy, the German embassy, EU Food Security Unit, Swiss disaster relief, and USAID accompanied the mission on field visits to refugee camps in eastern and western Ethiopia. In addition, representatives of Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs were in attendance throughout the mission. Visits were made to Hartisheik, Kebribeyah, Derwenaji, Teferiber and Camaboker in the east and to Bonga, Fugnido and Dimma in the west. The findings of the mission will be released shortly.

Refugee Statistics (as of 1 May 1999)

West East  
Bonga  12,748 Hartisheikh (A & B)  33,248
Fugnido 23,353 Aisha  15,290
Dimma  8,056 Kebribeyah  11,621
Shirkole  15,599 Teferiber  30,435
Sub-total  61,756  Derwenaji  27,006
    Camaboker  28,590
South(Kenyans/Somalis)   Rabasso  16,814
Moyale 4,760 Daror 33,985
Dolo*  8,000 Sub-total  196,989
Sub-total 12,760     
  GRAND TOTAL  271,505  



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.



UNDP-EUE field reports; CARE; Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC); European Union; FAO; FEWS; National Meteorological Services Agency (NMSA); Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA); SCF (UK); UNICEF; UNHCR; WHO. Also media sources: The Ethiopian Herald; AFP; Walta Information Centre; ENA.

10 June 1999

UNDP-EUE  Tel.: (251) (1) 51-10-28/29 
PO Box : 5580  Fax: (251) (1) 51-12-92 
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  e-mail: undp-eue@telecom.net.et