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Drought in Ethiopia affecting millions, worsens food insecurity as government appeals for emergency food assistance

The less than usual drops of rain in the past several rainy seasons have caused drought in many parts of the country, particularly in Eastern and Southern Ethiopia, triggering severe food insecurity in communities already on constant food distribution list by donors. Estimated numbers of people affected by the current drought and are in need on emergency food assistance has doubled to 4.6 million.


But Ethiopia’s State Minister of Agriculture (MOA), Mitku Kassa, told government affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday that early-maturing and drought-resistant crops are being supplied in most of the affected areas. While in the districts of Fentale, Amibara and Gewane in eastern Ethiopia distribution of animal feed is well underway, he added. IN addition Wondimu Filate, a spokesperson for the MOA, told the Associated Press news agency that, “the government has enough food stock and it is assisting farmers to continue their farming practices.”

However, MoA’s statements come late for the pastoralist areas of the Afar Regional State, in Eastern Ethiopia, where the deaths of cattle due to shortage of water and pastures in the current rainy season, Kiremt, has devastated many households and the country has, once again, issued an appeal for $325m (£167m) in food and other humanitarian assistance.



The Ethiopian National Metrological Agency’s (NMA) forecasts the shortage of the seasonal rains will improve in August. The NMA stated on Wednesday that it has established a national committee to assess the impact of the rain discrepancy.

But on the other hand a report from the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) expects an increase in the number of the food insecure people dependent on relief food assistance which was 2.9 million people beginning of the year. “Food insecurity is widespread and rates of acute malnutrition are growing now above the international thresholds that defines an emergency,” states the report.

The country has never experienced a rain deteriorating in two consecutive seasons since 1997. As a result, “this situation led to delays in planting not only the long cycle crops but now also the short cycle crops. In pastoral areas, thousands of livestock deaths have been reported,” adds the report. “Malnutrition rates amongst children under-five have increased significantly. Water sources are depleted and the regeneration of pasture has not happened. Unseasonal livestock and people migration out of the most affected areas and significant livestock deaths has been observed in many parts of the North East and Eastern parts of the country.”

“We are seeing sharp increases in humanitarian needs this year at the time when contributions from international donors have declined,” said US Ambassador Patricia M. Haslach said after visiting U.S.-funded humanitarian assistance activities in SNNP on August 13 and 14. “We must do more to ensure that the most vulnerable among us, and those affected humanitarian crises, have the resources they need to live their lives with dignity.”

According to a statement from the embassy, the Ambassador also visited a stabilization center in the Dega Birbir kebele of Mirab Abaya woreda, where children under age five receive treatment for medical complications resulting from severe malnutrition. “These children are at high risk of mortality and receive 24-hour care until their medical conditions have stabilized, usually five to seven days,” the statement said. The ambassador also visited an outpatient therapeutic program at the Laytirga Health Post, where mothers bring their malnourished children under age five for medical check-ups.

Climate shocks are common in Ethiopia and often lead to poor or failed harvests which result in high levels of acute food insecurity. According to data from the CIA fact book, approximately 44 percent of children under 5 years of age in Ethiopia are severely chronically malnourished, or stunted, and nearly 28 percent are underweight. Roughly 31.6 million people, or 32 percent of the country’s total population, are undernourished.

Famine Early Warning Systems Network’s (FEWS NET) food security outlook from June to December, predicts that poor families in Belg producing areas of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), northeastern Amhara, southern Tigray, and some areas in central and eastern Oromia to stay in Integrated Phase Classification (IPC Phase 3) from July to September due to delayed harvest and lean seasonal rain. Cumulative rain was as little as less than half of the 1981-to-2011 average in some places.
While below average rainfall is likely to continue for the rest of the rainy season through September, poor households in the pastoralist areas of Southern Afar and Northern Somali will stay in IPC Phase 3, maintains the outlook.

Things are expected to improve after October to December 2015 when there is a high chance that El Niño conditions will continue through March 2016 giving southern and southeastern parts of the country above average rainfall with a near normal timing of the start of the rains.



Cover Photo: Pictures circulating on social media show the extent of the current drought in eastern Oromia regional state.
Photo: Social media
Ed’s note: Addis standard has not independently verified the picture.

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