Drought Plus War Equals Famine for Horn of Africa

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, October 8, 2002 (ENS) - On the western shore of the Red Sea, three drought stricken countries are locked in a food emergency that is threatening the lives of millions of people. Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan have all been engaged in complex military conflicts that, together with the failure of the region's crops, have placed residents and refugees alike at risk of starvation.

Already under pressure due to the famine affecting 14 million people in Southern Africa, the relief agencies are bringing what resources they can muster to avert the famine in the Horn of Africa.

"The early warning signs of a large scale humanitarian crisis are already visible. It is obvious to anyone that there has been a massive crop failure," Kenzo Oshima said Monday. The United Nations Under Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator is in Addis Ababa during his two week tour of Africa.

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UN Under Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Kenzo Oshima of Japan (Photo courtesy United Nations)
Accompanying Oshima on this leg of the mission are senior officials from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the European Commission and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

A recent multi-agency assessment in Ethiopia estimated that the number of people requiring immediate food assistance would reach 6.3 million by the end of the year.

Just to the north, one million people in Eritrea, with whom Ethiopia fought a border war from 1998 until June 2000, are hungry too. The border lands are littered with hundreds of thousands of landmines, making agriculture extremely hazardous even when rains arrive.

Rainfall has been poor since October 2001 in Eritrea with almost total failure of the March-June rains and the late onset of June-September rains, threatening the food security situation of thousands of farmers and pastoralists who make up most of Eritrea's working population.

Oshima, speaking in Addis Ababa at the launch of a joint UN-Government appeal for 2003, said the best available assessments suggest that more than 10 million people will need relief help next year.

Ethiopia

Cattle in Ethiopia's Afar region are dying in the drought. (Photo courtesy Wagdi Othman/WFP)
"These are indeed dreadful prospects, provoking memories of the terrible visions that were broadcast to the world from the Horn of Africa in the early 1980s," he said.

"Two years ago, Oshima said, famine was averted in the Horn of Africa thanks to fast and early action, effective response and good coordination. Nevertheless, overall success was muted by unfortunate suffering and death. We must learn from such past experiences and strive to do better."

Oshima concluded his mission to Ethiopia today and flew to Asmara, Eritrea, to get a first hand look at the effects of drought in that country.

The current poor agricultural season could not have come at a worse time for Eritrea, just recovering from a devastating border war with neighboring Ethiopia, according to the UN agencies. A large number of people, including farmers, are still displaced and thousands of soldiers are yet to be demobilized. The continuing resettlement of Eritrean refugees returning from Sudan is an extra strain on the country's resources.

Meanwhile, over the weekend in Sudan, the government lifted a flight ban over the southern part of the country, enabling the resumption of aid activities on the ground in those areas. Last week during his trip to Khartoum, Oshima held talks with Sudanese authorities in an effort to get them to lift the flight restrictions.

Still, the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan noted the continued use of other restrictions, and called for all parties to recognize the principle of unhindered access to those in need. The lack of prior notice of the ban has resulted in hundreds of international staff being stranded in southern Sudan.

On Thursday, USAID Administrator and Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, said, "This denial of access continues the government of Sudan's pattern of using humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war."

For the past 18 years, Sudan has been embroiled in a complicated civil war, but this was the most restrictive flight ban in years. It denied access to 63 specific locations in opposition controlled areas, shut down all humanitarian operations, forced the evacuation of humanitarian staff and placed vulnerable civilians even more at risk.

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A Slovakian deminer, part of the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia, at work removing land mines. (Photo courtesy United Nations)
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is undertaking a first, targeted response to the worsening food crisis in Ethiopia with a preliminary appeal for 821,000 Swiss francs (US$548,000) to help almost 35,000 farmers and their dependents in Ethiopia's drought stricken northern highlands.

The Ethiopian Red Cross Society will target the households of 34,920 farmers in Ambassel, in South Wollo, who are in need of emergency assistance following the failure of the mid-season harvest earlier this year.

The Red Cross operation aims first, to provide cash or food to the equivalent of 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of grain per person per month between October and December 2002.

The second goal is to implement employment generation plans that will provide work for the representatives of 10,000 households, who would be paid cash for their efforts. This work will include terracing, road maintenance, water resource development and environmental sanitation.

The provision of employment opportunities is especially important, says a joint report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme, to prevent aid recipients from becoming too dependent on relief.

The report says that while emergency food aid needs in Eritrea during 2003 will be extensive, in many areas, "there is a risk of people developing an over-reliance on food aid with the expectation that this assistance will be provided on a regular basis."

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Aid distribution in Ethiopia (Photo courtesy Wagdi Othman/WFP)
The agencies say, "This is proving destructive to some traditional coping strategies, and creating a vicious cycle that can lead to dependency. Therefore, it is critical that emergency food aid be provided only to those who cannot survive or will become destitute without it."

On a hopeful note, an international conference entitled Prospects for a Horn of Africa Confederation is to be convened at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Tampa, Florida on November 14 and 15, under the auspices of the Center for Africa & the Diaspora, the Institute On Black Life at the University of South Florida, and the US-Africa Education Foundation.

Academic participants include Harvard University, Henderson University, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, Princeton University, University of California-Los Angeles, and University of Missouri-Rolla. International organizations such as UN Development Programme, the World Health Organization, UNESCO, FAO, the World Bank and representatives of the private sector as well as nongovernmental organizations will also participate. map

(Map courtesy USGS)