Drought, Rain and Famine
Addis tribune- May 12, 2000
By Our Staff Reporter
May 12, 2000 -- Just when the world is convinced there is a drought in Ethiopia, the rain comes. How do you explain that nowthe rain is the problem?
Not only Addis has been experiencing unseasonably heavy rain, most of the rest of the country is in the same situation. The
farmers are happy. The main complaint is that the rains are too heavy – the drought-stricken south is now becoming the flooded south.
This comes just as the food is beginning to arrive at Djibouti port in large quantities. Offloading is proceeding, trucks are
mobilized and things are moving. Officials say that 3,300 metric tons is being moved daily – which is still too little. To offload
and move the 400,000 metric tons expected in May and June requires the rate to be doubled to 6600 mt.
Unfortunately, the rain is now the biggest hindrance. The irony seems to be that while almost everyone is happy there is rain,
meteorologists are saying that the rain doesn’t make any sense. It fits neither the conditions of the ‘belg’ or small early rains, or
the later and heavier ‘kiremt’ rains. Perhaps these special rains are a gift in exchange for all the prayers from Ethiopia.
Here a brief wrap-up from the two worst affected parts of the country:
This is the hardest hit area, and the rain has brought welcome relief. Drinking water is becoming a less serious problem,
although clean water is still a challenge in many of the over-crowded towns swelled by the incoming hungry. Grazing for
remaining livestock is now starting.
The main challenge remains intensive feeding for the severely malnourished. Nutritional supplements are arriving, particularly
through the Red Cross air bridge to Gode, which is ‘floating’ in nutritional biscuits. Other parts of Somali Region are still in
desperate shape, although a WFP team was assessing airstrips in the region this week for additional flown-in support.
Airlifting nutritional supplements is a viable option, unlike the much bulkier foodgrain which can only be brought in overland in
the large quantities needed.
The irony may be that people will receive the light nutritional biscuits designed to supplement the diet, and still not have any of
the staple food-grains.
Trucks are already bogging down in the bad sections of road, particularly where the gooey black cotton soils prevail, which is
in many parts of Somali. Transporters report that it is taking up to 12 days to cover less than 900 kilometers between Dire
Dawa and Gode.
There is also the huge challenge of therapeutic feeding, in particular for children close to death. Thousands are in need of this
labour-intensive support, which is still far from being set up in most parts of Somali Region where it is needed. In the meantime,
people are dying daily, primarily from diseases such as measles.
Food distribution in Somali Region is always complicated by bandits, rebel groups, and clan conflict. Reports continue about
the danger of travelling outside of major centres, although at least some areas seem to be operating under an effective
‘cease-fire’ for food transport. Another worrying element is the growing tension between the government and the Ogaden
Welfare Society, a major local NGO in Somali Region.
Highland areas are receiving the rains, and although they are late most farmers are busy in their fields trying to take full
advantage of whatever moisture they get. The rains are heavy enough so that they are washing away fields in some places, and
seeds with them where they are planted. Some areas have suffered from hail and even snow at very high altitudes, which has
made cropping difficult.
The main challenge will be for the crop of the ‘belg’ or small rain dependent farmers. They received rain only in April instead of
the normal February or March, so their growing season is uncertain. Normally they rely on the rains slowing enough in June so
they can harvest a crop before the heavy rains start in July. Now they must wait to see what happens. If the rains don’t stop
long enough, they’ll lose their crops.
In the meantime food distribution continues for the ‘belg’ dependent farmers, who lost almost their entire crop last year. They
need food until harvest time – if it comes. Otherwise they’ll need food all year long.
Many producers dependent on the main rains, the ‘kiremt’, also suffered a bad crop last year. They are now entering their
‘hungry season’, the time they are planting and tending their crops and waiting for their harvest. Now is the time of year when
they need the food.
Food is arriving, but it is still not enough. Over 7,000,000 people need food distributions this month. Certain local areas have
been targeted – the most critical – but most areas are still receiving little or no food. Millions are going hungry, but have not
reached the critical stage yet.
This is where the rain comes in. Just as the food is finally coming in, the rain is cutting off areas that need the food. Trucks are
reported to be stuck in mud even on the main road to Bahir Dar from Addis. In remote areas of Wollo and Gondar trucks are
already stuck and unable to get the food through. Deliveries will only proceed if the rain stops for periods long enough to allow
the food to get in.
If the food doesn’t get in, then there is a disaster. People in remote areas will have to desert their crops and migrate to urban
areas to get food. With their crops abandoned, they remain dependent on food for an entire year.
It remains to be seen if this crisis will turn into a disaster, and the disaster into a famine.