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Update 00/03 on ICRC activities in Ethiopia (Conflict and drought in south-eastern Ethiopia)

05-05-2000 Operational Update

 Long-awaited rainfall - ICRC relief efforts accelerated  

The onset of rain in several areas of the Somali Regional National State in recent days has provided an added dimension to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in this drought- affected region. In many respects, the long overdue rain has exacerbated an already fragile humanitarian situation. Whilst the moderate to heavy rainfall has addressed the critical shortage of water in the region and raised hopes that recovery might eventually occur in the mid-term, the vital need for food assistance remains acute. Yet current conditions are making it increasingly difficult to deliver emergency assistance to those areas where it is most needed. In response, the ICRC's humanitarian relief efforts are accelerating in an attempt to cope with the increasingly apparent needs of the 188,000 beneficiaries in the targeted areas - Gode, Denan and Imi districts in the Gode Zone and Adaadle district in the Afder Zone.


The poor seasonal rainfall, which is characteristic of the Horn of Africa region in recent years, has led to the loss of large numbers of livestock and huge quantities of food products. This situation has been compounded by present or past conflict which has rendered large tracts of previously available grazing land inaccessible to nomadic pastoralists. In a region where the economic mainstay for the majority of the population is livestock, the recent drought conditions, which brought a further depletion in herd numbers, heralded a major nutritional disaster. Losses in some areas have been f ound to be in the order of 50-70% - making segments of this essentially nomadic population largely dependant on humanitarian assistance for survival. As migration in search of food and water is the traditional coping mechanism for inhabitants of this region, destitute pastoralists and rain-fed farmers, denied their only income-generating source, have flocked to urban centres to seek emergency food aid. As more of these people settle along the roadsides and in towns and villages, already depleted food supplies have become stretched to breaking point. A recent ICRC field trip to Carmale and Harwin in the Gode Zone to meet with clan elders and fine-tune the monthly ICRC general food distribution, revealed a substantial population increase, of whom many were destitute, and a serious decline in available water. Although recent rains have certainly addressed the shortage of water, the food situation remains critical.

Significant rain has now been recorded in areas of the Somali region, including Jijiga, Denan, Gode and Imi in Gode Zone, as well as in the Fik, Degehabur and Liben Zones. However, given the delay in the arrival of this seasonal rainfall, the general consensus of local residents is that the current rains are not expected to continue on a regular basis. The Regional Drought Monitoring Centre in Nairobi confirms this assessment, and continues to predict that rainfall suppression due to low sea surface temperatures will result in further below-average rainfall in the Somali region between May-July 2000. But for the present, trucks carrying relief to remote areas face treacherous journeys, experiencing difficult driving conditions on poor quality roads which in a very short time may be reduced to muddy quagmires - whilst flooded runways mean that planes carrying badly needed emergency food supplies are not always able to land. In addition, as the water table rises and grasses begin to emerge on the desert plains, those weakened, debilitated animals that have survived long-term dr ought conditions risk bloating, and subsequent death from frenzied feeding. Meanwhile, an increasingly desperate population remains anxious to receive food assistance. These continually changing circumstances mean that the ICRC's response to a precarious combination of drought, sporadic heavy rainfall, security hazards and conflict must constantly adapt to circumstances as they arise.


The ICRC's initial response to this crisis situation has been to set up an assistance pipeline to ensure the minimum food needs of 188,000 beneficiaries - representing the entire populations of the targeted districts in the Somali region. For the immediate future, each person will receive a 12 kg monthly ration (4 kg of pre-cooked high-protein blended food (Unimix), 6 kg of sorghum and 2 kg of palm oil). This food ration is intended as an essential nutritional complement to the wheat distributed by the Ethiopian Government's Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission (DPPC). The aim is to provide regular, carefully balanced nutrients aimed to address the current widespread malnutrition and to stabilise the nutritional crisis.   Since the beginning of this operation, ongoing assessments of the nutritional status of potential beneficiaries have required the ICRC to increase its monthly quantities from 550 to 2,260 tonnes per month.


 Food pipeline  

The gravity of a situation means that aid needs to reach the most-vulnerable victims with the utmost urgency. As a result,   two air bridges have been established linking the ICRC's regional logistics base in Nairobi with accessible points in the S omali region. As a first stage, clearances were obtained from the Ethiopian authorities to use an essentially military airport at Gode in the south - which has become the logistics base for distributions to Gode, Denan and Adaadle districts. Access to Dire Dawa airfield was also secured, so as to provide a point of entry for assistance destined for Imi district. A second logistics base has been set up at Jijiga to facilitate distribution of incoming assistance via this route, thus providing immediate access to an area found to be inaccessible for trucks and trailers from Gode via the Gode-Imi road.

Since the arrival of the first ICRC-chartered Hercules C-130 flight, which landed at Gode with the first 17 tonnes of emergency food aid on 12 April, up to the end of April 678.5 tonnes of food assistance (comprising blended, fortified food, (Unimix), sorghum, BP5 high-protein biscuits and palm oil) has arrived in Ethiopia from the ICRC regional logistics base in Nairobi. From 21 April, a larger Ilyushin 12 aircraft, with a load capacity of 40 tonnes has been flying two rotations, six days per week. The Hercules aircraft will soon be replaced by a second Ilyushin, which will make four flight rotations, bringing a total of 160 tonnes of daily emergency food aid into Ethiopia.


 Food distributions  

With the assistance of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS), supplies have been briefly stored at Gode and Jijiga, before being transported to the affected towns where they are distributed by community elders, under Red Cross supervision. The first distribution took place on 17 April in Denan town to 3,050 beneficiaries. As of 24 April, 16,890 beneficiaries in Denan district have received a full monthly ration. Distributions to West Gode commenced on 19 April. Over three days, distributions were also completed to 7, 500 beneficiaries in the villages of Hadawe, Bargun and Adi Ade. Following the arrival of the initial shipments of food assistance into Dire Dawa on 20 April, the first convoy of six trucks, carrying approximately 60 tonnes of food assistance left Jijiga on 26 April for Gudis. Within two days, all 11,000 residents in Gudis had received their entire monthly ration, a total of 130 tonnes of food aid. By the end of April, 422 tonnes of emergency food relief had been distributed to 35,390 beneficiaries in the most needy areas. The next distributions are intended for some 42,000 people currently staying in and around Gode town.

In line with standard operational procedures, the ICRC will continue to survey and assess the needs of the affected populations, and to monitor relief distributions so as to plan the most appropriate, co-ordinated response to this humanitarian crisis, and to validate the impact. Post-distribution reports from Denan, Gode and Gudis have been very positive, with indications that food is being evenly distributed at all destinations and is warmly welcomed by all recipients.

Whilst the ICRC is presently concentrating its operation on the Gode, Imi, and Denan districts in the Gode Zone, and the Adaadle district in the Afder Zone, worrying reports coming in from other areas have meant that investigations have been extended further afield. An ICRC nutritional and water-survey team have recently completed assessments in the Fik Zone, that extends 250-500 km north-west of Gode, in order to clarify the situation there. Initial reports suggest that although the resident population exhibits no obvious signs of malnutrition, a recently arrived migratory population which includes many destitute former pastoralists is in dire need of assistance. Based on the findings of the survey team, a plan of action will be drawn up in the coming days.

In addition, an ICRC provisional survey in two areas of Borena (Oromiya Regional S tate) in early April identified nutritional needs, although priority-areas appear to be more localized in this southern region of Ethiopia bordering Kenya. A comprehensive nutritional assessment in this region is also imperative after evidence of the further decimation of livestock herds, and the subsequent effect on the local population deprived of their livelihood. Accordingly, a complete nutritional survey of Borena will commence on 7 May. After all available data has been assessed, if necessary the ICRC may also plan and implement an appropriate plan of action for these regions, using a similar phased, targeted response to that presently being implemented in the Gode Zone.

 Water and sanitation  

The acute water shortage in the Somali region over recent months has been largely alleviated by the moderate to heavy rains which have fallen over the last week. Although this means that in the short-term it will not be necessary to continue with plans to secure water tankers to truck water to areas where wells and other water sources had run dry, plans to implement measures to ensure water security in the long-term will proceed as planned. In this regard, water storage installations aimed at providing sufficient water to meet the minimum needs of the population have been planned for those areas where the water situation has been found to be precarious. In Gudis village, eight 10,000 litre " onion " water reservoirs (a flexible water tank in the shape of an onion which is open at the top), linked in sets of two (i.e. four sets), which will provide 5 litres/day/person for approximately 10,000 people are due to be installed. Water will be treated using a floculation/chlorination process, to ensure that the already debilitated population has access to clean uncontaminated water. Similar installations may be placed in the Afder Zone, where even during the emergency phase of this operation, the ICRC continues to support the digging and rehabilitation of wells. Further action in the Afder Zone, as in all districts, will depend on future rainfall and ongoing ICRC assessments of local conditions. This is especially true in vulnerable areas such as Denan and Gudis towns, where only days ago, wells now topped-up by recent rains, were completely dry. Should it prove necessary, the ICRC will intervene where necessary to truck water to complement existing supplies.


 Seeds and non-food assistance  

As an additional measure aimed to improve the longer-term food security of some segments of the population, the ICRC will deliver a total of 186 tonnes of seeds to 18,600 farming families in the four targeted districts of Gode, Imi, Denan and Adaadle, in order to take advantage of recent rains, and in the hope that these will continue. Rain-fed farming families living at distance from the Wabi Shebele River in areas such as Denan, Bargun, West Gode and Gudis will each receive 10 kg of sorghum seeds. Plans for initial deliveries to some of these families are underway.

In addition, some non-food items will be distributed so as to give internally displaced and destitute people some basic shelter from the elements, and to address the inherent risk and spread of epidemics and disease in current circumstances. To this effect, 11,500 tarpaulins and 30,280 pieces of soap will be distributed to destitute and migratory populations who have settled in urban centres, many of whom are lacking even the most basic items.


 Veterinary Intervention  

Now that rain has begun to fall, the remaining weakened livestock will be susceptible to many endemic diseases. In order to maximise their chance of survival, the ICRC, in co-operation with the South East Rangelands Project (SERP), has undertaken an emergency programme in this regard. 100,000 head of cattle have been treated for ecto and endo parasites, as well as several common bacterial diseases. A further round of treatment is planned for June at the end of the " Gu " rain season. Recognizing the particular vulnerabilities of livestock in this dry, nomadic region, the ICRC has also undertaken to train local pastoralists in the appropriate techniques necessary to protect their surviving animals and future herds.



Whilst the ICRC programme presently targets 188,000 people, the number of beneficiaries and the quantities of monthly rations are not fixed, and may well be varied according to ongoing assessments. If the expected " Gu " rains are adequate, this programme may be terminated in July. However, the ICRC is prepared to continue supplying assistance at the present rate until the next harvest season - i.e. until the end of December 2000. It is anticipated that relief will continue to arrive by air during the most acute phase of the operation, after which supplies will be delivered by sea. A recent study indicates that the port of Berbera in Somaliland may have significant advantages over the more remote Djibouti port in terms of costs and accessibility to the end destination. A final decision regarding the choice of sea port will be made in the coming days.


Throughout every aspect of this operation, the ICRC continues to maintain an ongoing dialogue with government authorities, and all parties involved, so as to gain assurances regarding the security and safety of pers onnel in the conduct of their humanitarian activities. The ICRC relief programme is part of a substantial humanitarian operation involving the Ethiopian authorities (DPPC), the Red Cross, United Nations Agencies and several international organizations and NGOs. An increasing number of these agencies are carrying out programmes in the ICRC-targeted districts. MSF-Belgium is operating a Therapeutic Feeding Centre (TFC) in Denan with a capacity to treat 1,000 children, whilst SCF-US has established a TFC in Gode town and has been active in supplying water tankers in Denan - an areas which until very recently was desperately short of clean water. Ongoing discussions continue with other agencies who plan to open TFCs, or are considering one-off aid distributions in some areas of the Gode Zone. The essential aim is to co-ordinate the response of all actors so as to streamline efforts and maximise efficiency.

The various components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement present in Ethiopia - the ICRC, the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - are also working in close co-operation to maximise assistance in this crisis period. In particular, the International Federation is supporting the efforts of the ERCS to assist farming communities hit by drought in the two districts of Ambassel and Kutaber in South Wollo and are planning to start drought-response activities in the northern Borena Zone.

For its part, the ICRC will continue in its effort to contribute to and support the Ethiopian Government in responding to the present situation in Gode Zone, whilst co-ordinating its programme with UN agencies, NGOs, and all other humanitarian actors to ensure that relief reaches those most in need with the utmost urgency.

Ref. LG 2000-057-ENG