Plea for more help in Wag Hamra area

Emergency food aid is not enough to help desperately poor families in one of the most inhospitable areas of Ethiopia, according to a United Nations report.

The UN’s Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (EUE) called for major improvements in roads, water conservation and irrigation in Wag Hamra zone, in the highlands of Amhara regional state. Wag Hamra is one of the most food insecure parts of the country.

Its large population – some 332,000 living in just 7,800 square kilometres of land – live a hand to mouth existence, having heavily overused the land. Even with 100 percent production, only half the families in the region would have enough food, the EUE report said.

“Therefore timely delivery of the planned food assistance will remain necessary during the bridging period from April-May until the harvesting time, in order to avoid a deterioration of the nutritional status of, above all, children,” the study said.

But, it argued, food aid alone was not enough and development agencies must help the population escape the emergency cycle.

“It necessitates improving and strengthening asset ownership at community and household level, soil and water conservation projects, irrigation infrastructure, livestock reproduction, road network, craftwork capability and strengthening capacity at local government line office level,” the report said.

It added that families had started to reduce the amount they eat and the frequency of their meals.

The harsh environment prompts large migrations each year – as much as 8 percent of the population - as family members go in search of work. “One of the main coping mechanisms is the quest for daily labour through a temporary migratory trend of the household heads or elder sons, sometimes also entire families," the report said.

“People will then migrate for three to four months between March and June, in order to return on time for the main planting period of their own land.

“After having used the bulk of their food stock during the six months after harvesting, farmers now need additional income or support provided through food aid to ensure their subsistence,” the report stressed.