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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 00:13 GMT 01:13 UK
Ethiopia faces 'green drought'
Mothers and children in West Hararghe
As many are at risk in Ethiopia as in all southern Africa

Ethiopia is suffering from a "green drought", a UN official visiting the region has said.

Kenzo Oshima, of the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Agency (Ocha), on Monday warned international donors that although areas in the highlands of Eastern Ethiopia appear to be green and fertile, crops have failed because of a lack of rain.


We don't even have milk, we are eating the roots of plants and fruits from the forests

Zena Belay
That, he said, could lead to "a large-scale humanitarian crisis" affecting up to 14 million people in Ethiopia - the equivalent of the population affected by drought in the southern African region - if action was not taken soon.

Over the weekend, the UN official visited Ethiopia's West Hararghe Zone, in Eastern Oromia region, one of the worst-hit areas in the country.

'Deceptive'

"Looking down from a distance, you get the impression that the situation is not that bad because the landscape is not that parched brown colour that is so familiar in drought situations.

"Rather, what you see is a pleasant light green in many part of West Hararghe," Mr Oshima told the donors in Addis Ababa.

Kenzo Oshima among villagers in West Hararghe
The UN wants to avert a major crisis

"However in these areas this impression is deceptive. It is a green drought. Once you get a closer look, what you see is wilting maize and dying and stunted sorghum," Mr Oshima added.

On Sunday, hundreds of farmers and their families gathered around the village of Hardim to welcome Mr Oshima and other high-level delegates from USAID and the European Commission.

Men and women lined the road as the 15-car convoy drove through, holding up their dried maize stalks and wilted sorghum plants to show Mr Oshima that they needed immediate help.

Women carried infants, saying that the health of the children and the elderly was rapidly worsening.

Zena Belay sat on the ground with her nine-year-old son, Ahmed Osman, who appeared weak and malnourished in her lap, amongst the hundreds of other villagers with their crying children.

"There has been no rain and all our animals are dying. It is totally dry here and our crops are not growing. We have nothing to eat and all our children are very sick.

Diseases

"We don't even have milk, we are eating the roots of plants and fruits from the forests. For one month, we are getting 12.5 kg of cereal from the government and we eat once in the day," Zena told me.

Preliminary nutritional assessments suggest that up to 17% of children under five suffer from severe malnutrition.

Severe forms of malnutrition like marasmus, kwashiorkor and marasmic kwashiorkor are now becoming increasingly widespread amongst children and the elderly, according Getachew Haile, Field Monitor with the UN World Food Programme.

Afar children
A humanitarian crisis is in the making

"We have done a nutritional survey in eight districts of West Hararghe, looking at the nutritional condition of about 900 children as well as the elderly. We have noticed a big difference in the children and old people in this area over the past months.

"Because of a change in their diet, our preliminary assessments suggest that between 15% and 17% of the children are severely malnourished. This is totally abnormal compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa," Mr Haile said.

Early warning signs of a large-scale humanitarian crisis are already visible.

In the villages of West Hararghe, traditionally the breadbasket of Ethiopia, where productive crops like coffee, maize and sorghum are harvested, the situation is rapidly deteriorating, aid agencies say.

The government's emergency relief agency, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC), says that in the West Hararghe zone alone, over 70% of 1.6 million people require food aid urgently.

Appeal

Simon Machale, the head of the DPPC, said on Monday said that West Hararghe needed food assistance for the first time.

"West Hararghe has always been a food-secure area and now that this area is suffering, it indicates the magnitude of the crisis," he told international donors in Addis Ababa.

However, West Hararghe is just one area in Ethiopia where the suffering is evident. The Afar region, Somali region, Tigray, the Southern region as well as other parts of Oromia are also facing a crisis as drought once again stalks Ethiopia.

Early warning assessments suggest that if the rains continue to be sporadic and the harvests fail in November/December, then between 10 and 14 million people will need aid at the beginning of next year.

Dead cow
Thousands of livestock are also dying

This is the number of people currently needing food assistance in the entire southern African region.

The government says that between 343,000-500,000 metric tonnes of food will be required to avert a crisis.

Mr Oshima says that he has been sent to Ethiopia at the request of UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia and focus the world's attention on the suffering of the Ethiopian people before it is too late.

He appealed to the donors to act now.

"The fact that more than 10 million people will need food assistance next year is a dreadful prospect, provoking memories of the terrible visions that were broadcast to the world from the Horn of Africa in the early 1980s.

"As we did then and have done since, the international community must now pull our efforts to meet the needs of the humanitarian crisis Ethiopia is now facing," Mr Oshima said.

See also:

06 Aug 02 | Africa
26 Jul 02 | Africa
02 Jul 02 | Africa
25 Jul 02 | Africa
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