The World Food Program is diverting emergency food shipments to Ethiopia, where officials expect already severe shortages to worsen over the next few months. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports July is likely to be the most critical period, with deteriorating nutrition levels among people already living on the edge.
World Food Program Director for Ethiopia Mohammed Diab says supplies of nutrition supplements intended for elsewhere are being diverted to Ethiopia, where the estimate of people needing food aid has more than doubled, from 2.2 million to 4.5 million.
Diab told reporters the United States is making available a supply of CSB, or corn-soya blend, to ease an expected shortfall of 360,000 metric tons of food over the next three months.
"WFP normally resorts to diverting ships, if it reaches a critical situation where food is not available we ask WFP to contact our donors to ensure that if a consignment ship going elsewhere we divert it here to ensure food is available, we have managed to contact WFP headquarters and with donors to get additional CSB from U.S.," he said.
Diab cautions that the current estimate of a 360,000 ton shortfall is optimistic. He says people in the heavily-populated Oromia region are already living on the edge. If the current rainy season fails, as the last two have, conditions could get much worse.
"The need in the southern regions and Oromia is enormous. And now the nutrition levels is deteriorating. There is a failure of production in this area, so the population are working on a very thin edge. Any deterioration or delay in rainfall can lead much more serious situation than what we are in here," he said.
Ethiopia's disaster prevention agency chief Simon Mechale says even with the expected aid shipments, the months before the next harvest are going to be difficult.
"Unless something is done very quickly, we are going to face a serious problem in July in terms of shortfall. I think this should be very clearly understood. Unless we are provided with sufficient resources, we cannot be blamed that people are suffering, but there is nothing being done. So this should be very clear. July is going to be the most critical month," he said.
Simon told reporters he does not believe the current food crisis will be as bad as the famine that killed an estimated one million people in the mid-1980s. He pointed out that the 1980s famine spread over the entire country, while the current food shortages are limited mostly to southern and eastern regions.
Of the four and a half million in need of food aid now, the government estimates at least 75,000 are children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Emergency feeding centers have been set up in some regions to help the worst off, but aid workers and health professionals manning the centers say they are losing children every day.