Access to food in Djibouti has been cut by more than 50 percent because of reduced availability and rising prices, according to a humanitarian official.
"The price of rice [the main staple] had gone up by 28 percent since January and by 88 percent from [the average price] in 2007," Nancy Balfour, the disaster management coordinator for the Zonal Office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told IRIN.
Djibouti imports 80 percent of its food, most of it traditionally from Ethiopia, which is suffering food insecurity of its own and has banned the export of several cereal crops.
"Household budgets have also gone down," Balfour said. Unemployment in the capital is estimated at 60 percent.
The urban and peri-urban populations that have not been covered in past humanitarian interventions are the most affected, she said. Other hard-hit areas include Obock in the northwest and Ali Sabieh in the southeast.
The peri-urban areas also had limited water supply. "The pastoralists are concerned with trying to keep livestock alive," she said.
Low rainfall and subsequent drought over the past few years have caused massive livestock deaths in the mainly pastoralist country and also led to a decline in pastoralist trade and income.
The global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate among children between six months and five years averages 16.8 percent, reaching 25 percent in the northwest region, according to a Joint Appeal and Response Plan for Drought, Food and Nutrition Crisis released by Djibouti's government and the UN in late-July.
The drought had made it difficult for pastoralists to cope, forcing many to migrate to towns. "People are dropping out of pastoralism," Balfour said.
The migrants live in poor conditions in informal settlements in and around towns where they lack adequate access to water and sanitation facilities, she said.
The IFRC is supplying 10,000 people with food and water. Balfour said the organisation was also helping set up temporary water supplies where people were displaced as well as improving water access in the rural areas as a preliminary measure.
A more detailed needs assessment is being carried out to identify gaps, she said.
According to the Joint Appeal, US$31.7 million is needed to help tackle the crisis, which is affecting about 120,000 people. These include 36,000 sub-urban people (mostly formerly semi-nomadic), 8,500 refugees and 20,000 asylum-seekers.
Strategic priorities of the appeal include increasing food distribution in rural areas as well as for urban and sub-urban populations by implementing a food/cash voucher programme.
The UN World Food Programme is increasing the number of rural people targeted for food aid from 47,000 to 80,000, with at least 50,000 urban dwellers included in future aid distributions, the spokesman for East and Central Africa, Marcus Prior, said on 31 July.
The government has also reduced taxes on agricultural inputs, basic food commodities and cooking fuel, in an effort to relieve the high food prices.
The UN World Health Organisation is also assisting in the provision of essential healthcare to the most vulnerable groups in the districts of Obock, Tadjourah and Dikhil, according to a report, Health Action in Crises Highlights No 220 - 4 to 10 August 2008.
Djibouti was ranked second after Haiti in May on the World Bank watch-list for food-insecure countries with a high probability of social unrest.