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Severe Drought in Ethiopia Threatens Lives and Livelihoods of Millions

Hussen Ahmed, 70, who says he lost 7 cows and hopes his remaining 16 will survive, herds his animals after taking them from a distance to a pond at Beda'as Kebele, Danan woreda in the Shabelle zone of the Somali region of Ethiopia, Jan. 18, 2022.

The U.N. Children’s Fund, UNICEF, warns three years of successive drought in Ethiopia’s lowland regions of Afar, Oromia, The Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ and Somali is threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

Failed rains over the past three years have dried up water wells, killing livestock and crops, pushing hundreds of thousands of children and their families over the edge. UNICEF predicts 6.8 million people will need life-saving humanitarian aid by mid-March.

Women and children walk amidst strong dusty winds near Sagalo village in the Korahe zone of the Somali region of Ethiopia, Jan. 21, 2022.
Women and children walk amidst strong dusty winds near Sagalo village in the Korahe zone of the Somali region of Ethiopia, Jan. 21, 2022.

It warns conditions could get even worse if the hoped-for rainy season in April does not come. Speaking from the capital, Addis Ababa, UNICEF representative in Ethiopia Gianfranco Rotigliano said the impact of acute food and water shortages already is visible, especially in the two most affected regions, Somali and Oromia.

“We have already some, more than 220,000 children and 100,000 pregnant and lactating women that need urgent nutrition support…In the regions, the rate of acute malnutrition is already at 20 percent, which is well above the rate that we have as global emergencies, which is estimated at 15 percent,” he said.

UNICEF estimates 850,000 children across the four regions will be severely malnourished this year due to conflict, drought, and a poor economy. Rotigliano said nutrition centers must be urgently improved so acutely malnourished children can be quickly admitted and treated correctly.

“All of that is something that should be done within the next two to three weeks. So, it is extremely urgent that we move on swiftly and rapidly and not wait for the usual situation, which we see. You know, the devastating effect of famine and all of that,” he said.

UNICEF says more than 155,000 children in Somali and Oromia regions have dropped out of school to help find and fetch water in the parched landscape for their families and cattle. It warns children who are out of school are at risk of exploitation.

The children’s agency is appealing for nearly $32 million to provide lifesaving support to more than two million people in the four lowland regions over the next six months.