"Serious disaster" feared as rains fail in the east

Critical rains in the drought-stricken Somali region of eastern Ethiopia have failed, prompting fears among humanitarian organisations for already vulnerable families.

The region, already reeling from the severe drought affecting many parts of the country, should have seen rains at the beginning of October. Aid agencies working in the remote lowland region, inhabited mainly by nomads, warn that without them the area is facing a renewed disaster.

"The Deyr rains are overdue by a month, and the impact is already being felt by millions of pastoralists and their animals," the UK-based charity, Save the Children, warned. "Unless these rains come, hundreds of thousands more could be in need of assistance."

"This is very disappointing, as most of the areas affected by this rain failure have actually done reasonably well this last year," said John Graham, the head of Save the Children. "The southern belt of the Somali region, including the area of Gode, which was very affected by the drought in 1999-2000, has been affected again. Unless the coming few weeks bring rain, we are
looking at a serious disaster," he added.

Ethiopia suffered a severe drought last year, which, coupled with widespread poverty, sparked an unprecedented emergency which left 13.2 million people needed in need of food aid.

The Deyr rains are essential for grazing needed by animals in order to survive the Jilaal long dry season from January.

In this context, the Somali regional government has warned that seven of the region's nine zones have received next to no rain. "Most of the Deyr rain is usually received in October and parts of November," the region’s emergency arm reported in an alert issued to the media on Wednesday.

"It is therefore a cause for serious concern that, even as October comes to an end, the rains have not started in most of the seven zones."

"It is important to note that in this largely pastoral region, one rain failure, or a significant delay in one rainy season, can easily spark a drought situation, because the population is very dependent on the biannual rainfall cycles," it added.