The number of Ethiopians needing emergency assistance has leapt by 40 per cent from 4.6 million to 6.4 million people since June, according to latest official figures from the United Nations and the Ethiopian government.
At the same time cereal rations to those needing assistance have been reduced by a third because not enough food is reaching the country, international charity agency Oxfam said on Friday.
The agency called on all donors to respond generously to the worsening crisis, as, according to the UN, the total aid effort is currently under-funded to the tune of US$260 million.
The revised figures of those needing emergency assistance is likely to be a conservative estimate and does not include the 7.2 million chronically poor who receive cash or food aid from the Ethiopian government every year.
“Today’s figures, terrible as they are, show only half the picture,” said Oxfam’s country director, Waleed Rauf. “Over 13.5 million Ethiopians are in need of aid in order to survive. The number of those suffering severe hunger and destitution has spiralled. More can and must be done now to save lives and avert disaster.”
Oxfam is particularly concerned about the situation of pastoralist communities in the eastern Ethiopia regions of Afar and Somali.
The number of people in need of help in the Somali region has also doubled to nearly two million since June. They also face huge problems due to loss of their livestock with an average loss of 60 per cent of cattle, 50 per cent of goats and 40 per cent of camels.
In northern areas of the country, where the recent minor rains season was patchy, official reports say many people will remain dependent on aid until March next year when the next rains are expected.
Further south, if the October/November rains are poor people there will have to hold out until next July.
“Compared with the funds going to shore up the global financial system the aid needed to save lives in Ethiopia is a drop in the ocean,” said Rauf. “The events of recent weeks clearly demonstrate that – with the right kind of political will and ambition – action is possible in the face of urgent needs.
“We need donors to demonstrate that same kind of urgency when responding to acute hunger and underlying vulnerabilities in places like Ethiopia,” added Rauf.
In July 2008 the UN World Food Programme (WFP) had to reduce monthly cereal rations from 15kgs a person to 10kgs. WFP has only received one-third of the funds it needs and has an immediate short fall of 229,587 tonnes of food for the next six months. The UN agency fears the impact of this will include increased malnutrition.
According to Oxfam, a number of donor countries have already made substantial contributions to the humanitarian response in Ethiopia since the beginning of this year.
“This has helped to save people’s lives, but now that the needs are increasing a ll donors must provide additional money,” said Rauf. Panapress.