Drought in Eastern Africa

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Facts and figures on the drought

Ethiopia in context

Even in the best of times, Ethiopia struggles against poverty, preventable diseases, and child mortality. With a population of 60 million and per capita income of about $110, it is one of the five poorest countries in the world. The country's under-five mortality rate of 173 per thousand ranks it 18th in the world - some 1,300 children under five die every day. Overall life expectancy averages 43 years (5th lowest in the world), and stunting among children due to poor nutrition is 66 per cent (highest in the world).

Under normal circumstances less than 20 per cent of Ethiopia's population has access to safe drinking water. (Only Afghanistan, Micronesia, and neighboring Eritrea are worse off.) Access is lowest in rural areas, where more than 80 per cent of the population resides.

Because such a high percentage of the population is rural and depends on pasture or farmland for subsistence, variations in the weather have powerful consequences. Drought conditions have developed every few years since the early 1970s, the worst episode occurring in 1984-85, when an estimated 800,000 people perished. In the 1990s significant droughts occurred in 1991, 1994 and 1997.

UNICEF has operated in Ethiopia since 1952, and the agency's water and sanitation programmes were introduced, in part, as a response to the 1973 drought here. Today UNICEF provides some $3 million a year to support water and sanitation projects throughout Ethiopia. The largest part of this sum consists of supplies and cash grants to the government in support of specific, agreed-upon projects. Since the drought of 1984-85, UNICEF has invested some $50 million in water schemes in the country, including the equipment, spare parts and technical support needed for constructing hundreds of new wells, reservoirs, and pumping and filtration systems.

Scope of the present drought

  • Areas Affected: Sustained drought conditions are impacting life in large parts of southern, southeastern, eastern and northern Ethiopia. Populations near Gode, Denan, Imi and south of Jijiga (all in southeastern Ethiopia's Somali Region) are presently experiencing the most severe conditions. Other affected areas include Oromiya, Dire/Yabello, South Omo and Konso (in the south and southwest of the country) and North and South Wollo (in the northern Amhara Region).

Somali region is one of the country's least-developed regions, plagued by insecurity and absence of infrastructure and a vast, open border with neighboring Somalia. Population migrations in search of food, potable water and basic health care continue - over 10,000 people have reportedly moved into Gode town from outlying Denan and Fik areas.

  • Number Affected: An estimated 8 million of Ethiopia's 60 million people are at immediate risk due to drought. UNICEF estimates that 1.4 million of those at risk are children under five.
  • Health Risks: Migration in search of relief and a lack of adequate shelter is increasing children's exposure to dust, sun and wind. Lack of food and water is weakening their immune systems. Under these conditions children are more vulnerable to disease. The top seven causes of illness in drought-prone areas are malaria, diarrhea, intestinal parasites, upper respiratory infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and skin disease. It is estimated that 60 to 80 per cent of health problems in the country are due to malnutrition and preventable diseases.
  • Lost Livelihoods: UNICEF is focusing its efforts on immediate life-saving interventions in the provision of safe water and the prevention of disease. Unfortunately, the crisis is likely to be protracted in that most families have lost their cattle - the primary form of subsistence in the heavily affected southeast and south of the country (Somali Region). In the Borena zone in the south, up to 70 per cent of cattle have been lost. Thus, immediate emergency assistance is needed to keep people alive, but long-term development assistance will be needed to restore the shattered economic base of pastoral and agricultural areas.
  • Disrupted Education: In addition to threatening the health and welfare of children in the affected regions, the drought is effectively suspending their education. Primary schools are closing down as children leave to help support individual family incomes. In the vicinity of Gode, one-third of primary schools have closed. In Somali Region as a whole, 76 schools have shut down. Schooling is not only vital to a child's development, it helps provide a sense of security and continuity during times of disaster and stress. Approximately 500,000 children had been enrolled in grade school in drought-affected areas.

UNICEF relief activities

  • Funding Appeal: In January 2000, UNICEF appealed to international donors for US
    $7.7 million to provide emergency relief to drought-affected areas. Health and nutrition relief constituted the majority of the appeal, followed by water and sanitation and emergency education initiatives.
  • Donor Response: As of May 1, about half of the appeal target had been met, but the slow arrival of funding has hindered relief efforts. In February, UNICEF headquarters in New York released $1.5 million in emergency funds to jump-start crucial relief activities. This is in addition to the $16 million UNICEF Ethiopia plans to spend this year in support of ongoing health and water initiatives.
  • Water Actions: UNICEF's ongoing development work in the water sector has helped mitigate the impact of the drought. In the 15 years since the 1984-85 drought, for example, UNICEF has spent some $50 million on water projects in Ethiopia. These funds have led to at least 2,000 new or upgraded water schemes throughout the country and supported the repair and rehabilitation of hundreds more. Up to a million people have been given access to safe water as a result.

As part of its relief efforts, UNICEF is supplying national and local authorities with needed supplies, funds and technical expertise to carry out emergency repairs on 63 wells and water systems throughout the hardest hit areas. The funds are being used to purchase spare parts and to field teams of repair workers. An additional 20 projects await funding. UNICEF is also funding water tankering in six of the hardest hit areas.

UNICEF is also supplying water purification chemicals to make drinking water safe, and has distributed 5,000 jerry cans to help families save water and use it efficiently.

  • Health Actions: UNICEF's ongoing activities are also vital to the health sector: Every year, virtually all of Ethiopia's stock of essential vaccines is purchased and delivered by UNICEF. Moreover, the national and regional systems put in place to support the National Immunisation Days funded by UNICEF provide a crucial infrastructure for mounting emergency vaccination drives to fight outbreaks of disease.

In addition, UNICEF has made hundreds of thousands of sachets of Oral Rehydration Salts available for pre-positioning by the government, along with IV fluids. These will help treat cases of diarrhea. Essential drugs to combat other diseases are being procured by UNICEF and will also be shipped in for pre-positioning.

  • Operations in Gode: The benefits of UNICEF's ongoing health and water efforts are visible in Gode, where the government and local and international NGOs have established therapeutic and supplemental feeding shelters for malnourished children and their mothers. A steady supply of water is available to these sites because UNICEF funded a substantial upgrade at the existing pumping station three years ago, more than doubling its capacity and making the water cleaner. Further, the essential drugs and medical equipment being used to vaccinate children at these emergency feeding sites was available in regional storage hubs thanks to ongoing purchases by UNICEF.

In addition to making Gode a viable relief centre through its ongoing activities, a UNICEF field doctor is providing technical support and guidance on the ground. Her knowledge of Ethiopia, her experience in droughts, and her familiarity with local officials have helped the relief effort immeasurably. In April alone, she provided training to 40 local health workers in the management and special care of malnourished children. She is also providing hygiene training to mothers and community leaders to enable them to help prevent the spread of illness.

Also in Gode, UNICEF has fielded a water specialist to work with local and national officials in carrying out emergency water assessments and to ensure that water supply schemes are maintained and maximised during the crisis.

  • Emergency Staff Deployments: Based on its success in Gode, UNICEF is preparing to field several additional public health teams throughout the most affected areas. As in Gode, these UNICEF teams will arrive with a UNICEF vehicle and communications equipment, enabling them to continuously assess and report on emerging needs.

UNICEF-supplied relief items

In addition to ongoing and emergency funding for health and water interventions, UNICEF has contributed much-needed relief supplies. These include:

  • Thirty metric tons of high energy biscuits for 2,000 malnourished children in the Gode area. An additional 54 metric tons have arrived at port.
  • More than thirty 5,000 and 10,000-litre community water tanks to ensure a safe and clean supply of water in the driest communities in the southeast and south, along with 5,000 jerry cans for families.
  • More than half a million sachets of oral rehydration salts and tonnes of chlorination chemicals for distribution by the government throughout the affected regions.
  • Measles and vitamin-A vaccines, as well as the cold-chain equipment needed to keep them fresh. Essential drugs for malnourished and sick children and women have been delivered to Gode and additional large quantities are being sent from the UNICEF warehouse in Copenhagen.
  • 5,000 blankets for use at therapeutic feeding sites and medical centres in targeted areas of the Somali and Tigray regions.

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