Lethal mix of drought, extending war pushing Ethiopia to disaster

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Donor pledges to cover food and non-food items were insufficient to tackle the massive food shortages the country is facing, the government has said.

“Until now we have got US$160 million in pledges,” Deputy Prime Minister Addisu Legese said. “[But] we need $430 million,” the official, who recently visited some of the most affected areas, added.

The estimate of funds needed to contain the situation, he told a parliamentary session debating the drought and food security on 26 June, took into account the likely food situation over the next five months.

“How many people should die [before you] say the situation is out of control?” Lidetu Ayalew, chairman of the opposition EUDP Medhin party, asked the prime minister. “If one person died due to the drought, the situation is already out of control.”

Bulcha Demeksa, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement, suggested mobilising the population and a re-adjustment of the government budget to mitigate against the consequences of the drought.

“What is happening now is very worrying and scary,” he told parliament. “During such times the government should move on all [fronts]. The government budget should also be readjusted.”

In response, the deputy prime minister said despite the low pledges from Ethiopia’s donors and partners, the situation was “still under control”.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 4.6 million people are in need of emergency food support in Ethiopia. An additional 5.7 million in areas targeted by the government’s productive safety net programme will require extended food or cash support because of the drought.

UNICEF warning

Separately, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said a lethal mix of drought, expanding conflict, rising food and energy prices, disease, and high poverty were pushing children and their families in the greater Horn of Africa to the brink of disaster.

“Actions and policies are needed now to avert grave human suffering,” UNICEF said in a statement on 1 July. “In areas of Ethiopia, drought and conflict are leaving millions food-insecure and often cut off from relief. The government estimates that 75,000 children are severely malnourished.”

Per Engebak, UNICEF’s regional director for East and Southern Africa, said: “The signs are there and governments and international partners must heed them and act on them.”
On 30 June, UNICEF airlifted stocks of Plumpy’nut to Addis Ababa to meet the urgent needs of severely malnourished children. “We are in a race against time as we try to bring in enough supplies to save lives,” said Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “These malnourished children cannot wait.”

Plumpy’nut is a nutrient-dense, peanut-based paste with the right balance of proteins, energy, fats, vitamins and minerals to treat severe malnutrition in children without medical complications or serious illness at home.

“Already, affected communities in Ethiopia are taking extreme measures to survive,” the NGO Catholic Relief Services said on 1 July. “Families are selling household items, farm tools, and even wood and tin sheets from the frames and roofs of their homes to buy food. Many are also taking their children out of school and are hunting for wild plants to eat.”

Overall, according to OCHA, at least 14 million people in the Horn of Africa are in urgent need of food and other humanitarian assistance.

The number includes 2.6 million facing an acute food and livelihood crisis in Somalia, 1.2 million in Kenya, 707,000 in the Karamoja region of Uganda, and 80,000 in Djibouti. Eritrea was also likely to be affected, several UN agencies and regional NGOs said in a statement on 2 July.


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