Food security in drought-stricken Ethiopia at alarming levels, warns UN

8 September 2008

The food security situation in Ethiopia has deteriorated to alarming levels in the wake of drought conditions throughout much of the Horn of Africa country, and relief agencies are grappling with shortages of supplies, the United Nations warned today.

Some 4.6 million people in Ethiopia are need of food aid due to a combination of drought and high food prices, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

UN humanitarian chief John Holmes, who just returned from a visit to Ethiopia, told reporters last week that it was clear that “the crisis remains very severe, and the numbers of people affected are continuing to rise.”

Successive droughts have resulted in a drop in crop production that in turn have led to a surge in food prices – up to 500 per cent in some parts of the country – over the past year. The southeast has been particularly hard hit.

“Ethiopia presents a glaring example of the challenges posed by rising food prices,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Although a $325 million humanitarian appeal launched for Ethiopia in June has been “reasonably well funded” at over 60 per cent, Mr. Holmes urged donors to contribute more for the next few months to help alleviate the situation.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), for example, needs $136 million worth of food for its operations.

Meanwhile, flooding in Ethiopia’s south-western Gambella region has reportedly displaced nearly 35,000 people, and destroyed thousands of hectares of crop land. Most of the people uprooted are being sheltered in schools, government compounds and relatives’ homes.

OCHA has warned of increasing health threats among the displaced, especially malaria, diarrhoeal disease and respiratory infections, noting that water shortages are contributing to the risks of getting sick.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health have provided emergency drugs and medical supplies for 10,000 people in the region for one month. Other immediate needs include shelter, food, water, water treatment chemicals, insecticide treated nets, sanitation facilities and health services.

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