The number of hungry Ethiopians needing food aid has risen sharply due to poor rains and the El Niño weather phenomenon with around 7.5 million people now in need, aid officials said Friday.
That number has nearly doubled since August, when the United Nations said 4.5 million were in need — with the UN now warning that without action some “15 million people will require food assistance” next year, more than inside war-torn Syria.
“Without a robust response supported by the international community, there is a high probability of a significant food insecurity and nutrition disaster,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a report.
The UN children’s agency, Unicef, warns over 300,000 children are severely malnourished. (The report below contains an earlier estimate.)
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which makes detailed technical assessments of hunger, predicted a harvest “well below average” in its latest report.
“Unusual livestock deaths continue to be reported,” FEWS NET said. “With smaller herds, few sellable livestock, and almost no income other than charcoal and firewood sales, households are unable to afford adequate quantities of food.”
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, borders the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia, where some 855,000 people face need “life-saving assistance”, according to the UN, warning that 2.3 million more people there are “highly vulnerable”.
El Niño comes with a warming in sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, and can cause unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.
Hardest-hit areas are Ethiopia’s eastern Afar and southern Somali regions, while water supplies are also unusually low in central and eastern Oromo region.
Food insecurity is a sensitive issue in Ethiopia, hit by famine in 1984-85 after extreme drought.
Today, Ethiopia’s government would rather its reputation was its near-double-digit economic growth and huge infrastructure investment — making the country one of Africa’s top-performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment.
Still, nearly 20 million Ethiopians live below the $1.25 poverty line set by the World Bank, with the poorest some of the most vulnerable to weather challenges.
Ethiopia’s government has mobilised $33 million (30 million euros) in emergency aid, but the UN says it needs $237 million.
Minster for Information Redwan Hussein told reporters at a recent press conference that Ethiopia is doing what it can.
“The support from donor agencies has not yet arrived in time to let us cope with the increasing number of the needy population,” he said.
Experts meet to ‘prevent humanitarian catastrophe’ in Ethiopia and Kenya
Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, is hosting two events in Milan, Italy, on October 1 and 2, in an attempt to prevent a humanitarian and environmental “catastrophe” in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Representatives of tribal peoples from Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as international experts, are meeting to expose the threats to hundreds of thousands of people and point towards solutions.
Speakers include: Anuak refugee Nyikaw Ochalla, Director of Anywaa Survival; Ikal Angelei, Turkana spokeswoman and co-founder of Friends of Lake Turkana; British human rights lawyer Gordon Bennett; Berkeley Professor Claudia J. Carr; and Will Hurd, Director of Cool Ground.
In one of the most audacious land grabs that Africa has yet seen, the tribes of Ethopia’s Lower Omo Valley are being evicted from their ancestral homes, and their grazing and farming lands are being transformed into industrial sugar cane, cotton and biofuel plantations.
The massive Gibe III hydro-electric dam, which is being constructed by the Italian-based Salini Costruttori, will end the natural flood on which many tribes depend for cultivating crops, and dramatically lower the level of Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, on which many tribal people depend for a livelihood. Up to 500,000 tribal people in Ethiopia and Kenya face catastrophe.
Survival recently revealed that the U.K. government attempted to cover up gross human rights violationsfollowing a visit to the Lower Omo Valley by Ethiopia’s key donors, such as the U.K.’s DFID, USAID, and the European Union.
Francesca Casella, Director of Survival Italy, said, “The situation has never been more critical for the indigenous peoples of Ethiopia and Kenya. Aid donors can no longer turn a blind eye to the serious human rights abuses in the region. At this meeting we hope to launch an unprecedented effort to promote a model of development in the Horn of Africa that neither destroys tribal peoples nor denies them their rights.”