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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK
Hungry Ethiopians to get aid
Starving children during the 2000 famine
Ethiopians have faced famine before - archive photo

Food is on its way to over 250,000 people who are facing serious food shortages in the north-eastern region of Afar, says Ethiopia's emergency relief agency.

Unless urgent steps are taken it will be a tragedy

Ismail Ali Sero, Afar President

Around 70% of the food requirements has already been dispatched to the drought-stricken region, said Sisay Tadesse, spokesman for the government's Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC).

Over the weekend, the President of Afar, Ismail Ali Sero warned of an impending tragedy in the region.

He said that periodic drought over the past decade - coupled by two consecutive years of no rain - have forced thousands to flee the region in search of food elsewhere.

The Afar president said that over 270,000 people are now in need of emergency relief supplies.

He said thousands of Afaris are now fleeing to neighbouring regions in search of food due to the failure of the small "belg" rains as well as the larger "kiremt" rains over last two consecutive years.

Livestock dying

The poor rains have reportedly sucked wells and rivers dry, forcing women to trek for up to seven hours a day to find water.

Thousands of livestock - which are the main means of survival for Afari farmers - are also reportedly dying at an alarming rate.

President Ismail said that Afari herdsmen were now fleeing along with their surviving animals to the neighbouring states of Amhara, Oromia and Tigray.

They were abandoning women, children and the elderly to their own fate, he said.

"The drought has severely affected children and the elderly in particular, and unless urgent steps are taken it will be a tragedy" he said.

A report issued last week by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) warned that impending rains were "critical" in the arid Afar region, which has a population of 3.5 million.

According to USAid, warnings have already started to emerge of "serious shortages of pasture and water" and "this has resulted in poor physical condition of livestock and a shortage of milk, a main part of the pastoral diet."

The inhabitants of Afar often roam hundreds of kilometres with their livestock, irrespective of borders.

This year, the nomads have also wandered into areas outside the region in search of grazing.

Ethnic animosity

Francois Piguet, from the UN Emergency Unit for Ethiopia (UNEUE) who has just come back from the region, says that the problem is further exacerbated by rival ethnic groups like the Issa, who are preventing the migrating Afari pastoralists from reaching valuable water points and grazing pastures.

Dead cow
Thousands of livestock are also dying - archive photo

"The Afaris' migration in search for food and water is hampered significantly by conflicts with other ethnic groups like the Somali Issas, who often clash with the migrating Afaris as they compete for resources for their livestock," Mr Piguet told the BBC.

The DPPC on Tuesday said that the government's late response to the food shortages in Afar was mainly due to the fact that donors had not fully responded to the government's appeal for food assistance requirements for 2002.

"Only 46% of the total requirements of 557,204 metric tonnes of food have been delivered so far," Ato Sisay told the BBC.

"It is mainly due to our resource limitations that we have failed to intervene in the Afar region on time."

Afar is a lowland region, constituting one-fifth of the territory of Ethiopia.

On average, the region receives 300 mm of rainfall a year - a quantity which can fall in the capital, Addis Ababa, in a single month.

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See also:

24 May 00 | Africa
17 Apr 00 | Europe
01 Apr 00 | Africa
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