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Report on East Africa

20 Jul 2011 – by Gerry Jones, CNEWA’s regional director for Ethiopia

The drought in East Africa is severe. It is hitting lowland, pastoralist areas that are always vulnerable to food shortages. The epicenter is Somalia, which has been without a functioning government for nearly 20 years. As a result, the country lacks the early warning and emergency response mechanisms to mitigate such disasters. The conflict in Somalia, together with the lack of a response mechanism within that troubled country, has led to an outflow of Somalis seeking assistance in both northeast Kenya and southeast Ethiopia. Camps have been set up to receive those fleeing Somalia, though reports indicate that food and medicines are in short supply. Camp administrators fear they may be overwhelmed by the influx.

The fact that the region is suffering a severe drought is not surprising: International famine early warning systems have noted the severity of conditions over the past year. However, the ability of the international community to respond to any humanitarian crisis within Somalia has been totally compromised by the lawlessness in Somalia. What has seemingly caught the world by surprise has been the massive exodus of so many famine-stricken Somalis across international borders into neighboring countries. In these countries, a response is now possible, if resources can be accessed, transported and made available in time. Mounting such a response will not be an easy task.

Ethiopia is thought to be receiving an estimated 1,700 Somali refugees a day, who cross the international border and enter into Ethiopia’s own Somali region. Though affected by drought and civil unrest, the Somali region of Ethiopia is significantly more peaceful than Somalia itself and has a response mechanism, which though very stretched, still functions.

As the lowland areas in Ethiopia’s Somali region are almost totally Muslim and pastoralist, there is virtually no Christian presence there.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the drought area extends beyond the Somali populated regions and camps, which are receiving so much media attention. While highland Ethiopia is presently having a good rainy season, which should lead to a good harvest in October and November, the lowland areas are experiencing difficult situations.

The Irob area of the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat and certain dry areas of several apostolic vicariates (namely, Nekemte and Hossana) are experiencing food shortfalls and water problems. If financial resources are made available, high protein biscuits, bread, tea and water can be provided to needy children in these areas. The Eparchy of Adigrat has long sought substantial funding for water wells and catchment facilities for their schools; several other schools in the area have also sought assistance for water wells and/or catchments.





Tags: Horn of Africa