Humanitarian agencies say the food outlook in Ethiopia has greatly improved for the second half of this year. However, they say the effects of drought and earlier food shortages will be felt for some time to come. The worst hit area is in the southern part of the country.
John Graham, head of Save the Children UK, says while conditions have improved in some parts of the country, more than twelve million of people remain at risk.
He says, "The situation now in Ethiopia is that some areas are receiving sufficient assistance – some areas have not. And as a result of that we’re seeing severe malnutrition in certain places. And what this means in real terms is that thousands of children are either dead or in the process of dying right now in those areas with this severe malnutrition. And a big part of the problem has been that despite an enormously generous contribution in particular from the United States, but also from some other donors, that the number of beneficiaries was severely underestimated. The number of people who needed help was underestimated."
Mr. Graham says humanitarian agencies are “playing catch-up.” That is, they’re dealing with the impact of earlier food shortages. The emergency food that was available was being rationed.
He says, "The food that has gone into these areas has been diluted drastically. So that families have been trying to live on just four kilograms of food a month, whereas they need sixty kilograms to maintain their lives."
He says tens of thousands of people have died from malnutrition since the crisis began last year. The Save the Children official says there needs to be a better early warning system for food shortages, a better system of getting food to those who need it most, and more accurate estimates of those in need.
Mr. Graham says, “There will be recurring crises in Ethiopia until there’s a major investment of development assistance.” Paul Turnbull, head of emergency operations in Ethiopia for the World Food Program, agrees.
"In recent years Ethiopia has received the highest per capita emergency assistance - but the lowest per capita development assistance," he says.
One reason people remain vulnerable to recurrent droughts is because poverty has prevented them from replacing oxen and other livestock. The animals may have died of thirst or been sold for food.
Chronic malnutrition, the rapid spread of disease among children and HIV/AIDS have made their situation worse.
More than twenty therapeutic feeding stations have been set up around the country to save children on the brink of death. The number of such stations is expected to double by the end of June. It can take thirty to forty days for malnourished children to recover enough to return to their families. Save the Children says for a hungry two-year-old, “southern Ethiopia may be the most dangerous place to live in the world.”
However, Humanitarian agency officials say an opportunity for change exists. They say following its recent war with Eritrea, Ethiopia now appears headed for a long period of stability. They say they hope the government will now give the food security problem its full attention. At the same time, they call on the international community to take a greater role in Ethiopia’s development.