Floods pose new threat to food security

While the ongoing drought has seriously undermined the food security of up to 4.5 million people in Ethiopia, a threat posed by expected flooding during the second half of 2011 could exacerbate the situation, say meteorological officials.

Ethiopia's meteorological agency has forecast normal to above-normal rainfall during the June-September rainy season, with the risk of flooding in western, northwestern and central areas. Areas around Lake Tana in Amhara region, parts of Gambella and along the Awash basin in Afar region are likely to be affected by floods.

"Parts of these areas, particularly in low-lying [areas] and near riverbanks, could face flooding as we usually anticipate in this season," said Diriba Koricha, the director of Forecast and Early Warning Department at the agency.

However, "as the season progresses in August and September, swift but heavy rainfalls could result in flooding anywhere", he said, adding that further preparation was needed to prevent any humanitarian crisis.

Launching an appeal on 11 July for drought aid, Ethiopia's Agriculture Ministry said the country's food security situation had deteriorated since the beginning of the year to the La Niña-induced drought currently ravaging parts of the country.

The country requires US$398 million for food and non-food aid between July and December 2011.

The government made the appeal as humanitarian actors reported funding shortfalls.

Judith Schuler, World Food Programme (WFP) Ethiopia spokeswoman, said many of its food assistance activities in Ethiopia "face significant funding shortfalls".

WFP has a shortfall of 120,000MT of food, equivalent to about $112 million, until the end of the year.

"Due to this lack of funding, WFP reduced food rations in relief operations in certain areas of the country from March onwards," said Schuler.

A recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia indicated that food rations had been allocated without vegetable oil and with a reduced amount of corn-soya blend.

Schuler said: "In order to resume full rations for all people badly hit by the drought, new contributions are urgently needed. Compounding the issue is time: from the moment a contribution is confirmed, it takes between four to five months until the food arrives in the country."

Between January and June, WFP assisted 269,300 moderately malnourished Ethiopian children under five through the targeted supplementary food (TSF) programme for malnourished children under five and pregnant and nursing mothers.

Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
Ethiopia's food security has deteriorated since the beginning of the year due to drought (file photo)

Somali refugees

The food needs are not just limited to Ethiopians; an influx of refugees from Somalia to Ethiopia has also been recorded.

"Numbers are increasing on a daily basis, and the nutritional status of the refugees upon... arrival is worrying," said Schuler, adding that a March/April survey had found malnutrition rates of 45 percent among newly arrived children under five at a camp in Dolo Ado, at the border between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

At least 55,000 new Somali refugees have been recorded in Ethiopia since January, according to the UN. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has set up a new camp to help them.

Eastern Africa is experiencing what the UN has described as the most severe food crisis in the world today.

On 4 July, international charity Oxfam GB made a £50 million ($80 million) appeal for drought-hit eastern Africa, saying at least 12 million people had been pushed "into a fight for survival".

"The aid effort faces enormous hurdles; there is not enough money to buy food in the quantities required and the price of maize has risen by up to 40 percent since a year ago in the region," Jane Cocking, Oxfam's humanitarian director, said. "The cost of fuel needed to transport food to the epicentre has also shot up."

On 1 July, the NGO, Christian Aid, also launched an emergency humanitarian appeal to help provide water, food and animal feed in the region.

"People are desperate and if we don't act now we could be looking at one of the worst humanitarian situations the world has seen in a long time," warned Nick Guttmann, Christian Aid's humanitarian director.