Potential humanitarian crisis in Somali region

A potential humanitarian crisis is looming in the Somali region of Ethiopia where the long rains have failed and up to 1.3 million people are likely to need emergency aid until the end of the year, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.

According to preliminary assessments of the situation, lack of water and pasture was widespread and crops had failed in 14 districts, OCHA said in a humanitarian update released last week.

OCHA said an assessment by the Ethiopian Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission in July had found a generalised failure of the Gu (long) rains across the majority of zones in the region. The southern areas were hardest hit by drought.

Early warning alerts issued between May and June had also indicated widespread failure of the Gu rains and aid agencies, including Action Against Hunger (ACF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), had warned of a developing humanitarian crisis if measures were not taken to protect communities in the region.

To strengthen capacity and respond to the humanitarian needs in the region, OCHA said it had established a new office in the regional capital, Jijiga. The office, opened on 5 July, would support Ethiopian authorities, UN agencies and NGOs.

The Somali National Regional State government was also planning to reassign 600 employees to 51 districts, while the federal government was planning to appoint advisors to each regional bureau to oversee affairs.

The dry season that normally follows the long rains season was expected to last five months until the next short rains in October. But the cumulative impact of the rain deficit over several seasons had stretched abilities of pastoralists to cope with drought.

In areas such as Shilabo, Filtu, and Moyale, OCHA recommended immediate delivery of water using trucks, adding that shortages for both human and livestock consumption had already become critical.

Shortage of pasture for livestock had also forced many pastoralist families to migrate to distant areas where limited pasture was reported to be available. Migration across the border into Somalia has also been reported particularly in Warder Zone.

The update said the situation had worsened due to unfavourable terms of trade, border closures due to illegal trade, continued international trade bans imposed on livestock from the Horn of Africa, high food prices and insecurity.

Apart from drought, the Somali region also suffers interclan conflicts. Last month local officials told IRIN that 11 food aid trucks had been burnt in the Gashamo area over two months. They blamed the incidents on rivalry between the Isaq and Ogaden clans.

A 1,600-km porous border between the region and war-ravaged Somalia has also seen tens of thousands of refugees enter Ethiopia to escape more than a decade of conflict in Somalia. About 85 percent of the region's 3.4 million people [official figure] are nomadic pastoralists whose livelihood depends entirely on their livestock, much of which was lost during a 2000 drought.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has announced a donation of US $3.4 million to support the eradication of polio and maternal and neonatal tetanus in Ethiopia, where 2,000 mothers succumb to maternal tetanus each year.