A boy shivers in a short burst of much-needed rain as villagers carry sacks of maize received from the Red Cross in the Volayta region of southern Ethiopia. Photograph: Radu Sigheti/Reuters
(The Guardian) — Ethiopia has appealed for $325m (£167m) in food and other humanitarian aid after drought and crop failure more than doubled the number of people needing emergency assistance to 4.6 million.
Poor rains have affected much of southern and south-eastern Ethiopia since last year, significantly cutting harvests. The shortage of local cereals has sent prices soaring, while the cost of imported food has also risen sharply due to the global food crisis and increased fuel prices.
Aid agencies said hundreds of thousands of the country’s poorest families can no longer afford to buy enough food to sustain them. According to the UN, which issued the appeal to donors yesterday together with Ethiopia’s disaster prevention and preparedness agency, 75,000 children are already suffering from acute malnutrition and illness.
“The urgency of this launch cannot be overstated,” said John Holmes, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator. “Humanitarian agencies are already on the ground helping the government of Ethiopia respond to the emergency, but limited resources are hampering the efforts of both the government and its humanitarian partners to help those in need.”
The food insecurity is the worst since 2003, when 13.2 million people required emergency assistance, and it took the government and aid agencies largely by surprise. In April it was estimated that $68m would cover the country’s humanitarian requirements. But the failure of the three-month short rains that ended in May saw the need increase dramatically.
The worst-affected areas are Oromia, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s region, and the Somali region, where the government has restricted aid access due to a rebel insurgency. A lack of water and pasture has already caused livestock deaths in all three areas.
Amid concern of a worsening situation spreading to several northern regions, the UN children’s agency, Unicef, warned last month that up to 6 million children were at risk of malnutrition.
Ethiopia hates its worldwide association with food crises, but recurring droughts and a fast-growing population of nearly 80 million has made it difficult to achieve self-sufficiency. Around 8 million people rely on a long-term food safety net programme.
The government’s current cereal stocks are enough to cover June, but represent only a quarter of what is needed until the next harvest in around September.
Simon Mechale, the director general of Ethiopia’s disaster prevention agency, said it was working closely with aid agencies to assist the affected people. “We are confident that, given time and adequate responses, we will jointly be able to avert a deterioration of the situation,” he said.
Earlier this week, the UK pledged £10m in humanitarian aid to Ethiopia, on top of £5m last month.