[Documents menu] Documents menu

From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed May 24 18:41:48 2000
Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 00:01:55 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT: UN Warns of Serious Crisis in Horn of Africa
Article: 92744
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: 22a46c6b21d9c696a0f4d84672aadf0a

UN Warns of Serious Crisis in Horn of Africa

By Thalif Deen, IPS, 31 March 2000

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 30 (IPS)—The United Nations has warned of an impending humanitarian crisis of serious proportions in the already embattled Horn of Africa.

The World Food Programme (WFP), a UN agency based in Rome, has estimated that 12.4 million people in seven countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, Uganda, Djibouti and Sudan—are threatened by a major famine primarily due to a prolonged drought.

The food shortage, the UN says, could also spread to Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda.

What this means is that these populations would require relief food assistance for survival, Carolyn Mcaskie, the UN’s Deputy Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, told reporters Thursday.

She said that some 940,000 metric tons of relief food assistance may be needed this year. Ethiopia alone accounts for 80 percent of this requirement. The WFP plans to provide some 371,000 metric tons of food assistance to 6.1 million people in the drought-affected areas at a cost of 205 million dollars.

The UN agency, however, has warned that the situation in the Horn of Africa has the potential to become much worse and vastly outstrip available WFP resources, particularly if forecasts of below average rainfall and continued drought conditions in some areas are accurate and/or physical security conflict in the Horn increases.

Mcaskie said the rains that have come thus far have been sporadic and uneven—and the prospects for rain in May and June are uncertain.

We are facing the real possibility that in two months’ time we will have a catastrophe—if more donor aid does not arrive, she added. We all recall the images of suffering Ethiopians from 15 years ago—we cannot afford to imagine such a scenario again.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday named WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini as his Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa. She is scheduled to visit the region next week.

The UN says the food crisis has also been exacerbated by conflicts and insecurity. Ethiopia and Eritrea have been engaged in a border war since June 1998 while Sudan has been fighting an intense civil war since the mid-1980s. In Sudan, food has also been used as a weapon of war in violation of basic human rights principles.

Early this year, the United Nations and its several relief agencies requested about 150 million dollars from the international community for food assistance to Ethiopia for this year. But only about half of this amount has been received so far.

The funding situation elsewhere is similarly dire, Mcaskie said, adding that there has been no response whatsoever against the requirement for food in Eritrea.

Meanwhile, the WFP said that the worst drought-affected populations were pastoralists in southern and eastern Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya. The situation has been further aggravated by the fact that some of the countries in the region also host several hundred thousand refugees and internally displaced persons, most of whom rely on food assistance for survival.

WFP estimates that some 60 to 70 percent of its drought relief beneficiaries are women and children. As men migrate to towns in search of alternative livelihoods, women are often left behind to care for themselves and for their children.

As food becomes increasingly scarce in the drought-affected areas, WFP said, these women and children fall victims to malnutrition, and may become too weak to seek relief.

WFP has also expressed fears of logistical problems, particularly in relation to Ethiopia, where the post of Assab has been closed for political reasons. Analysing capacity assessments, WFP said that a large-scale drought in Ethiopia would result in a shortage of port capacity and a shortage of road infrastructure capacity.

With the dramatic increased tonnage demanded by a large-scale drought, the use of the Djibouti port will have to be supplemented to get the food across to the hungry and the needy.

The UN agency has also drawn up contingency plans for all the countries in the region, addressing issues such as food and non-food requirements; beneficiary numbers by gender and locations; and best and worst case scenarios. (END/IPS/DV/td/da/00)