A humanitarian agency says more than 76 thousand people in southern Ethiopia now need emergency aid due to drought. The figure is nearly double the estimate of last May.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is launching a revised appeal for $8 million for Ethiopia's Wolaiyta region. Three months ago, the Ethiopian Red Cross began an emergency operation for some 40,000 people in Damot Pulasa. That operation has now been expanded to include an additional 36,000 people in neighboring Damot Gale.
Lorenzo Violante, the federation's drought operations manager in Addis Ababa, says the emergency assistance is just a stopgap measure.
"Obviously this is just aiming at saving the lives of the people and improving their nutritional status. But (it) will not empower the people to improve their resilience to future shocks. In that regard, we are trying to implement early recovery activities like distribution of seeds and other agro-related activities to improve their production capacity," he says.
Violante says that over the last few months living conditions have "deteriorated," adding that "people have exhausted all their resources and are unable to feed themselves."
"Flooding destroyed one of the harvests and the drought didn't allow the farmers to cultivate following two harvest periods," he says.
He says last year floods and water logging caused by the November-December Meher rains destroyed most of the maize, millet, haricot and tef root crops. This year, he says, failure of the Belg rains, which normally come in March or April, caused "catastrophic food insecurity and water shortages." Many hand dug and shallow wells are dry.
To make matters worse, people in the Wolaiyta region find it impossible to buy food because prices have soared 330 percent in the past year.
Violante says, "There are two clear reasons. The regional one that is affecting not only the region but pretty much the entire world is the issue of increasing the oil prices, which have had an enormous impact in the production of food. Second, in general, Ethiopia is only able to produce about 60 percent of the food needs, despite of the fact that 80 percent of the population is actually engaged in food production activities."
With the repeated failure of harvests, malnutrition rates have risen sharply, especially among the elderly, children, disabled and pregnant and breastfeeding women.
"One of the latest reports from one of the organizations involved in nutrition in the area shows that the global acute malnutrition (rate) stands around 17 to 19 percent, which is an enormous figure for that area, with a severe acute malnutrition (rate) of around 3.1 percent, which is something extraordinary once more, extraordinarily high," he says.
If the nearly $8 million dollar appeal is met, the Ethiopian Red Cross will expand food aid, including therapeutic feeding centers to deal with malnutrition. Also, seeds are being distributed to those who have access to farmland. And for those who don't, 10,000 sheep will be distributed to rebuild livestock herds.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says longer term needs will be met through its five year Africa Food Security Initiative, covering 15 countries, including Ethiopia.