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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Ethiopia's forgotten crisis
Dead cattle in Afar
Cattle are dying at an alarming rate

While the world's attention focuses on the drought in Southern Africa, up to half a million Ethiopians in the north east of the country are facing their own food crisis.

My children are getting weaker and weaker as we have no food and no milk

Ada Hussain
Occupying some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world, the Afar people are renowned for their resilience and self-sufficiency.

Under soaring temperatures of up to 50C, the nomadic peoples of the Afar trek hundreds of kilometres through the arid desert lands in search of water and grazing pastures with their camels and immense herds of livestock.

The lack of development in this neglected and forgotten north-eastern Ethiopian region makes little difference to the Afars, who have lived this life for centuries and who pride themselves on their own traditional means of survival.

But the crisis they are now facing is far beyond even their own capabilities.


There has been little rain this year. The short "sugum" rains earlier this year were poor, and now the main "karma" rains are already one month late.

As a result, livestock - the main means of survival for the Afar pastoralists- are dying at an alarming rate.

As you drive through the Assaiyta and Afambo districts, carcasses of cows and goats litter the desert landscapes. The stench of the rotting corpses is suffocating in the soaring heat.

Even the more resilient animals like camels are weak and barely able to move.

All people can do is helplessly look on as their animals die one after another.

"I have lost 37 out of 40 animals from my herd in the last two months. I only have three cows left and even those are on the verge of dying.

"My children are getting weaker and weaker as we have no food and no milk", says 41-year-old pastoralist Ada Hussain from Tolohunto village in Afambo district.


In village after village in the Afambo, people have a similar story to tell.

"We are eating only once in the day. We were promised food but we haven't received it. Our children are getting sick and have fever", said Mohammed from the village in Afambo district.

Afar men
The Afar pride themselves on their survival skills

The government says the situation is serious and action is needed now.

"We need food for over 766,905 people in Afar. These people are chronically food insecure and in dire need of help. This could easily get worse if we don't get the necessary help soon," says Adunya Kassie from the Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Bureau in Afar.

But already, children are already beginning to show signs of malnutrition, according to Action Contre La Faim (ACF), one of the few aid agencies working in the region.

Their preliminary nutritional assessments indicate that a humanitarian crisis is in the making.

"We are seeing a trend with an increasing ratio of malnourished and high risk children because of the lack of food and no milk," says ACF Nurse Nutritionist Abdullhai Sheik Barre.


There are also increasing fears of an outbreak of cholera due to the huge number of carcasses of dead animals in the Awash River, the main water source for people in the area.

"People are already weak due to lack of food and they are especially vulnerable to diseases at this time," says Herve Bonino from ACF.

Afar children
A humanitarian crisis is in the making

The overall situation is deteriorating rapidly, as the government and most aid agencies have been slow to react.

"We have been late. Our early warning systems in this region are not very effective and very few people were really monitoring the situation here," admits Adugna Kassie from the DPPC in Afar.

But this is little consolation for the people in the region.

"Are we going to wait for people to start dying before the international community takes any notice?" one Afar elder asked.

"We need food, clean drinking water and the crucial logistical support to get the aid out to our people," he says.

There is little doubt that a humanitarian crisis is looming in Ethiopia but with all attention focused on the Southern African drought, people in this neglected desert region, feel forgotten and abandoned - not only by their government but also by the world.

Key stories

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

Ways to help



See also:

26 Jul 02 | Africa
02 Jul 02 | Africa
25 Jul 02 | Africa
24 May 00 | Africa
01 Apr 00 | Africa
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