Ethiopia: Food crisis blamed on disastrous policy compounded by killer disease in Amhara region

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Ethiopian government has been forced to reduce food rations to some 5.3 million beneficiaries owing to a serious shortfall in food aid. Experts have indicated that the food crisis could be blamed on a disastrous agricultural policy which depends to a high extent on rain patterns. Meanwhile a previously unknown killer disease has hit parts of the Amhara region. Scientific experts claim the disease has been identified and is now under control.

Due to gross shortages in food aid, the existing food ration quota of 15 kilogrammes of cereals per month per beneficiary family, which has been in place for about a year, will be reduced to 10 kilogrammes, government sources have said. In January 2009, the Ethiopian government appealed for 450, 611 metric tonnes of food assistance to feed a target group of 4.9 million people until the end of 2009. Ethiopia has so far received only 274,611 metric tonnes leaving a shortfall of 176,000 metric tonnes of food, according to the Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector (DRMFSS) of Ethiopia.

The shortfall, according to official sources, is not only due to the failure of donors to deliver but also an erratic rainfall pattern, which wrecked havoc to last year’s agricultural harvest. The Ethiopian government, after promoting an agricultural development strategy, encouraging small-scale farming and boosting food productivity, saw its economy expand by a 12 per cent annual average from 2004. However, the system, being highly dependent on rainfall, was compromised when rain patterns became erratic.

According to experts, the hunger problem stems from sparse micro-irrigation systems, poor distribution of drought-resistant crops, over cultivation of land due to land ownership restriction, and the absence of capital-intensive commercial agriculture. Last year, Assefa Admassie, director of the Ethiopian Economic Association, said that “Ethiopian agriculture needs a structural transformation. If we depend on small farmers and a fragmented, rain-fed system, we’ll always face this problem.”

The annual population growth of 3 per cent, according to analysts, has contributed to the stubborness of the Ethiopian hunger problems. Civil society reports have signalled an aggravation of the current situation as the country’s food stock faces depletion. The number of beneficiaries is expected to rise to 5.3 million.

Although the World Food Program (WFP) is expecting the arrival of 251,878 metric tonnes of food, between August and December 2009, 143,000 metric tonnes of this aid will be used for loan repayments to the Ethiopian Food Security Reserve Administration (EFSRA). This leaves a balance of about 109,000 metric tonnes for all operations, the United Nation office For the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) stated in its August 10, 2009 report.

As of mid-June, DRMFSS’ in-country free stock stands at 17,088 metric tonnes, including 11,667 metric tonnes for a productive safety net programme and only 5,421 metric tonnes for relief.

Compounding the difficulties linked with the food shortage, beneficiaries residing in the Kelela woreda, located in the South Wollo zone of Amhara Region were recently hit by an unknown killer disease which caused 18 deaths and infected 81 others.

A research team comprising of experts from the World Health Organisation as well as federal and regional health experts, have only recently identified the disease as cerebrospinal meningitis. According to the UNOCHA, the outbreak has been confirmed as having been contained. No further cases have been identified in the past week.

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