|© UNICEF/HQ 96-1443/Pirozzi|
|Livestock and people will die if the rainy season doesn’t start soon in Ethiopia’s Somali region.|
Four million people live in the remote south-eastern district, which is about the size of Great Britain and borders Somalia. It is the driest area of Ethiopia. The mainly nomadic population relies on two rainy seasons a year – the Gu and the Deyr. The Gu has failed and the Deyr is now almost a month late, compounding on-going water shortages.
“There is widespread suffering in the Somali region due to the cumulative effects of years of poor rains,” says the report from the UN team, which included experts from UNICEF. “Should the present Deyr rains fail or perform poorly, then many zones in the Somali region are facing a full-blown humanitarian emergency.
“In effect it will lead to a humanitarian disaster due to water and pasture shortages, increase in deaths of livestock and people, deterioration in human health and nutritional status, and displacements of families into camp situations.”
During the last major drought in 2000, 50,000 people died. There are already reports of deaths and sickness and children are dropping out of school to help find water.
UNICEF’s Emergency Programme Officer, Julianna Lindsey says: “In these situations, children always bear the brunt of the crisis as they are the most vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. UNICEF is already organizing water supplies and therapeutic feeding centres to help those most in need.”
Many Ethiopians rely on foreign food and aid; the government is expected to make further appeals in the next month. In 1984 the famine killed one million people – but a catastrophe on that scale is unlikely to happen again because of the country’s improved relief network.
This week, UNICEF helped complete polio vaccinations of 750,000 children in Ethiopia. There are fears that polio could re-emerge in the country after new cases were discovered close to the border of neighbouring Sudan.