Worrying drought and famine scenario foreseen for many parts of Ethiopia: April-June period critical By By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

April 3rd, 2013 Print Print Email Email

In one of its fliers, ActionAid rightly pointed out that in Ethiopia the perennial question is whether there is enough food. The NGO indicated, “Ethiopia has suffered from several famines, and many Ethiopians are chronically hungry. This is due to political, economic and environmental reasons.”

Consequently, once again the inadequacy of food and water in many parts of Ethiopia for the next three months, i.e., June 2013, as determined by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS.NET) in March 2013, is increasingly becoming cause for concern. Drought is now evident in many places due to the lateness of belg rains and shortage of food and water.

The start of the Belg rains was already delayed by a month. A population once smitten by one drought sells all assets and has nothing else to withstand the next one. These people cannot recover for several years. When the lean seasons come one after the other it makes life for a perennial struggle for food and water, as ActionAid observed.

Citing a new report, Africa Review last week reported that an estimated 12.9 million in Eastern Africa face stressed to crisis levels of food insecurity through to June. The initial estimate was 14.9 million people about three months ago.

The countries affected by this lastet round of drought and hunger are Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Rwanda. It is also reported that the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) would soon undertake a new, faster and more precise way of measuring hunger and food insecurity in four pilot countries in Africa — Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger.

What this project known as “Voices of the Hungry” would do is to gather actual information from the hungry people themselves on the severity of their hunger, instead of relying on numbers governments provide. If this approach is found reliable, it would lead to the establishment of a new FAO-certified standard for food security monitoring, according to Africa Review.

In the coming three months, the scenario that went into FEWS.NET assumptions speak of the following key findings in the Ethiopian context:

◙ The February to May Belg rains started during the second week of March, which is earlier than last year. However, in most receiving areas, the rains were still between three and four weeks late. The subsequent late planting of Belg crops is likely to delay the harvest by a few weeks from its normal June start, which would extend the typical April to June lean season.
◙ In the sweet potato-producing areas of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), the sweet potato harvest is below normal. Sweet potatoes are an important bridge crop from March to June. Households without sweet potatoes may face food consumption gaps or need to employ coping strategies during the April to June lean season, which may extend by few weeks due to late Belg planting, keeping these areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through June.

◙ In the Belg-receiving areas, poor and very poor households usually address their food needs through purchase from April to June. As many of these areas had poor Meher harvests from October to January, purchases began as early as January. Food access through markets is likely to be constrained across the country as already elevated food prices are anticipated to further increase as local market and households stocks are exhausted in Belg-receiving areas from April to June.

Furthermore, FEWS:NET foresees the following scenarios in Ethiopia:

◙ AFAR AMHARA, OGADEN, OROMIA, SNNPR & TIGRAY:

In most Belg-dependent areas in SNNPR, northeastern parts Amhara, eastern and southern parts of Tigray, and East and West Hararghe Zones in Oromia Region, the poor household stocks from the 2012 Belg and Meher harvests are nearly exhausted, so households have turned to markets, expected to have rising prices between now and June as demand increases.

The latest rainfall forecasts indicate that Belg rains for April and May are expected to strengthen from their current levels However, the Belg rains started late, and the amount so far has been below normal with uneven temporal and spatial distribution, particularly in the northern and central lowlands of the SNNPR, northeastern Amhara, eastern and southern parts of Tigray, and East and West Hararghe Zones in Oromia Region. With a below average seasonal outlook due to the late start, staple food prices may increase further.

Facing continued high and likely to be soon rising food prices, poor households will try to expand their incomes through urban labor, sales of firewood and charcoal, and small ruminant sales. However, despite some income from these sources, their food access is likely to deteriorate between April and June. Emergency food assistance requested to meet the plans in the 2013 Humanitarian Requirements Document (HRD) is expected to reach about 2.4 million people, many of them in the Belg-producing areas. Now that resources from the Productive Safety Nets Program (PSNP) are reaching the regions, some additional contingency resources from PSNP have already been released in Amhara and they may cover additional beneficiaries in some areas in SNNPR and Tigray Region.

However, poor and very poor households in the root crop and Belg-dependent areas of SNNPR, the northeastern parts of Amhara, eastern andsouthern parts of Tigray, and East and West Hararghe Zones, and the Bale lowlands in Oromia Region will not be able to meet minimum food needs without accelerated depletion of their assets. Poor and very poor households in the above mentioned areas will be classified at Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until June.
With near normal to below normal March to May Sugum/Gu rains anticipated this year, the situation is not expected to improve to its normal level and therefore the poor and very poor households found in Afar and Somali Regions will likely be in food Crisis (IPC Phase 3) level of food insecurity from April to June. On the other hand, the expected normal March to May Genna rain in Borena and Guji Zones of Oromia Region will help poor and very poor households meet their minimal food requirements, and therefore they will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through June.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS.NET) is a USAID-funded activity that collaborates with international, regional and national partners. It provides time and rigorous early warning and vulnerability information on emerging and evolving food security issues.

FEWS NET also focuses its efforts on strengthening early warning and food security networks. Activities in this area include developing capacity, building and strengthening networks, developing policy-useful information, and building consensus around food security problems and solutions.

The Ethiopia Observatory

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