With world attention focused on humanitarian crises in West Africa – and one African in three remaining chronically malnourished – the United Nations World Food Programme today urged the international community to maintain its focus and generosity to Ethiopia, where more than three million people face persistent hunger and need emergency food aid in the second half of the year.
Twenty years after famine killed an estimated one million people in Ethiopia, hunger still looms large in a country where population growth is among the highest in the world. At feeding centres, there are still children with bloated stomachs who sit listless before receiving emergency food and vitamins. In rural villages, prematurely aged men and women, gaunt and thin, toil to coax a little food out of their land.
“Scenes at some of the supplementary feeding centres, established and run by the Government in southern Ethiopia, show the worst side of a hunger that remains depressingly familiar,” said Mohamed Diab, WFP’s Ethiopia Country Director in Addis Ababa. “While the current situation is not as bad as it was in 2003, when poor harvests left many people hungry, WFP and its partners are keeping a close eye on some 40 ‘hunger spots’ across the country in order to avoid any deterioration.”
A new report based on a countrywide and government-led mid-year assessment mission confirmed that up to 3.3 million people would need emergency food aid in the second half of 2005 and another 2.5 million should be closely monitored. It found food insecurity persists in many areas.
Erratic rains and extended dry spells in the first half of the year affected pockets of the highland and pastoral areas, resulting in poor harvests and inadequate pasture for many of the country’s rural population, the multi-agency study found. The mid-year assessment is conducted annually to establish food requirements following the seasonal rains known as the ‘belg’ (short season) rains in highland areas, and the ‘gu’ (long season) rains in pastoral areas.
“Ethiopia has had five major droughts in just two decades, causing untold deaths, suffering and hardship,” said Diab. “Many families never have time to recover from one calamity before another befalls them, wiping out crops, animals and what few assets they may have managed to scrape together.”
The report concluded that assistance must be provided to a mix of new and existing beneficiaries. Many of those who need emergency food aid in the second half of the year were already beneficiaries in the first half because they were struggling with the lingering impact of last year’s poor rains that affected parts of the country.
The numbers of people receiving food aid in Ethiopia vary from month to month and follow seasonal agricultural patterns. For the second half of the year, beneficiary numbers are expected to rise to a high of 3.3 million in August, and then decrease to just under one million people in December after the main harvest. Beneficiary numbers peaked at 3.8 million people in June at the height of the annual hunger season after many families had depleted their food stocks.
WFP is covering 70 percent of the emergency food requirements in Ethiopia, and assisted a peak of 2.6 million people in June. The country has a population of 72 million. For many people, growing food in rural areas is always difficult and they need food aid in the hardest months. Farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture that exposes them to unpredictable weather. Most farms are not irrigated and oxen pulling heavy ploughs still dominate the landscape.
The assessment estimated that 235,000 metric tons of cereals, pulses, oil and blended food would be needed for vulnerable people until the end of December. Of this, 165,000 tons was not included in humanitarian appeals made in December 2004 and May 2005. This additional tonnage brings Ethiopia’s total emergency food aid needs for 2005 to more than 600,000 tons.
Based on the experience of recent years, donors have responded to early forecasts of requirements rather than waiting for the final results of assessments. These generous contributions should allow the country’s emergency food requirements to be covered until the end of 2005.
However, WFP urged donors to continue their support. In addition, there are worrying funding shortfalls for emergency health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and agricultural interventions. For humanitarian responses to be effective, food and non-food interventions need to be balanced.
“At the G8 summit in Scotland in July, we were encouraged by the world leaders’ pledge to alleviate poverty, hunger and disease in countries like Ethiopia. This requires long-term commitments in all areas of humanitarian response if we are to end the cyclical trap of poverty that puts hundreds of thousands of people here on the brink every year,” said Diab.
WFP’s budget for its relief and recovery operation for a three year period, from January 2005 to December 2007 in Ethiopia, is US$763 million.
Recent donations have come from the United States (US$282.4 million), the European Commission (US$24.2 million), the Netherlands (US$12.8 million), Norway (US$2.7 million), Sweden (US$1.6 million) and France (US$1.5 million).