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Update 00/04 on ICRC activities in Ethiopia (Conflict and drought in south-eastern Ethiopia)

07-06-2000 Operational Update

 While the ongoing border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the north continues to have major humanitarian repercussions, particularly with respect to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Eritrea, in south-eastern Ethiopia, the various weather anomalies which have plagued the region in recent months have taken their toll, leaving a generally malnourished population increasingly vulnerable to the cumulative effects of drought, famine, flooding and insecurity.  


 In response to the situation in south-eastern Ethiopia, the ICRC is continuing to provide complementary food assistance to targeted beneficiaries, whilst expanding its multifaceted assistance programme, which aims to provide people as soon as possible with the necessary means for self-sufficiency, and in due time, allow an eventual phasing-out of the emergency relief operation.  


 Sporadic showers and heavy mud  

As the abundant rains of late April - early May give way to sporadic showers, the constantly changing conditions in the fragile Somali Regional National State (SRNS) environment continue to present new humanitarian challenges. The recent rains have initially had a detrimental effect in the drought-affected lowlands of the Somali region. In one area of Gode Zone, 128 mm of rain was recorded in just ten days - almost one third o f annual average rainfall for this region. Many roads and bridges became impassable, or were simply washed out by torrential downpours. Distributions of assistance to several areas virtually ceased as trucks were unable to negotiate waterlogged roads and many became stuck in the mud for days at a time. In some areas virtually all road transport ground to a halt, placing an increasing burden on those populations who found themselves cut off in isolated, inaccessible areas for prolonged periods.

 Risks of disease for humans and animals  

For the first time in recent memory, water has been available in abundance, however, both humans and animals have been subjected to increased health risks, and the effects of exposure to the elements. Despite the rain-induced regeneration of wide areas of pastureland, many animals, weakened by drought conditions, have been unable to cope with the range of diseases which can accompany torrential and persistent rain. For those agro-pastoralists and rain-fed farmers who the ICRC have been assisting, even if the recent falls were to continue, their late arrival will almost certainly impact on the potential yield of future harvests. This alone will have serious implications for the population's food security in the coming months .  

 Worrying future drought conditions  

The regional weather centre in Nairobi warns that if at least sporadic rains are not forthcoming by mid-June, recently planted crops risk failure due to serious moisture stress,   and both humans and livestock may again face a serious shortage of drinking water. In the meantime, weather patterns appear to have reverted to the usual dry, arid conditions which are all too familiar in the region. In the area i n and around Gode Zone - the logistical hub of the ICRC relief operation - there has been no further rain since 11 May. Nevertheless, even if an adequate supply of potable water is sustained in the medium- to long-term, the critical need for emergency food aid, which is the driving force of the ICRC humanitarian relief operation in this region, continues to be a serious concern.


The ICRC's immediate response to this humanitarian crisis 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 of Gode, Imi, Denan and Adaadle (see map). Beneficiaries are to receive a 12 kg monthly ration of 1,900 kilocalories, comprising 10 kg of pre-cooked protein food (Unimix) and 2 litres of palm oil, as a nutritional complement to the wheat distributed by the Ethiopian Government's Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission (DPPC).   Depending on the recovery following the next harvest, the quantities of food supplied may change, but the ICRC currently plans to continue the operation until November-December 2000.

 Food distributions  

Despite weather-related delays, by the last week of May the first round of ICRC monthly food distributions had been completed (see map for planned destinations and figures). In total, 125,470 people had received a total of 1,515 tonnes of food. In co-operation with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS), relief has been transported by truck from ICRC warehouses in Gode and Jijiga to the affected towns and urban centres for distribution by community elders under Red Cross supervision.

 First evaluations of impact  

As the effects of the rain begin to be felt, those people who still own livestock have begun to spread out to take advantage of newly accessible grasslands or to return to former pastures. Others have gone in search of whatever food sources are available. This essentially nomadic, migratory tendency has led to discrepancies in equating initial distribution targets (188,000 people) with beneficiary figures given by clan elders, and/or with visual assessments of population groups (125,000 people). Following several post-distribution assessments, there seems little doubt that beneficiary numbers will not remain static in most areas, but will require constant, ongoing revision. In striving to keep up with this rapidly changing situation and to ensure an appropriate response, the ICRC and the ERCS monitors rely heavily on continuous, ongoing assessment missions and situation analyses so as to gain an accurate understanding of the impact of all emergency food relief distributed - thus ensuring that all assistance at its disposal is appropriately targeted.

In the period since the distribution of food assistance began on April 17, ICRC delegates have been actively involved in this process. Details of recipient numbers, discrepancies or dilution in rations received, as well as any hardships encountered by beneficiaries have been noted, to be taken into account in future distributions. At the same time, information concerning weather and market conditions, crops and livestock, and population coping mechanisms are carefully analysed. Monitoring of this kind has so far been carried out in Denan, Hadawe, Ade Ade and Bargun (Gode district), and in Gudis village (Imi district) towards the end of May. There has been visible evidence which confirms that destitute and migratory populations in and around urban areas have received food on an equal basis to settled residents. Initial assessments of malnutrition and recent mortality carried out in Lab (16 May) and in Deraye (1 7 May) suggest there has already been a marked improvement in the general health of the population. At the appropriate time - approximately 4-6 weeks from now - the ICRC plans to carry out a study comparing current and pre-distribution levels of crude mortality and malnutrition.

 Further needs assessments  

In addition, delegates in the field have conducted several assessment missions into those regions where there have been concerns about the food security and/or malnutrition levels. Following the most recent assessment, 38,980 newly identified people in the districts of Fik, Segeg, Garbo, Hamaro, Dihun (Fik Zone) are believed to be in critical need of assistance. The first of these - 13,000 beneficiaries in Garbo district - will be included in the ICRC's second round of food distributions which have just begun. Populations in other targeted districts in Fik Zone will benefit from a one-off distribution to be made by Save the Children Fund in the coming days. Beneficiary numbers are also likely to be increased by a yet unknown number in the remote Afder Zone, where an ICRC nutritional and economic security assessment mission is currently underway.

Whilst a further survey in Borena Zone identified a food deficit in several areas in the south, this is presently being adequately addressed by other humanitarian organizations, and does not require any immediate ICRC action. However, the ICRC will continue to co-ordinate its response with these agencies, and will carry out repeat monitoring missions to vulnerable areas on a regular basis, so as remain alert to any potential deterioration in the current situation. A reassessment mission is planned to take place in Borena Zone in 3-4 months time.

The additional beneficiaries identified in Fik and Afder Zones will balance out recent downward revisions to initial estimates of those in need of food assis tance. At present, the calculated total number of beneficiaries - around 185,000 people - is believed to accurately reflect the size of the population to be targeted by future ICRC complementary food ration distributions.

 Water/sanitation and Health activities  

The higher-than-average rainfall in early May has, at least in the short-term, more than adequately dealt with the acute water shortage affecting the Somali region. However, because this huge amount fell in just ten days, although water tables were substantially refilled, most of the rainwater immediately flowed into the river system and will therefore benefit locations further downstream. Since the light sandy soils which characterise this region are not conducive to accumulating moisture, the current situation could well be reversed if there is no further rainfall. The short period of abundant rain may also lead to a potential decline in water quality, which will also require continuous assessment. Furthermore, malaria, cholera and other outbreaks of disease are to be expected following the rains. Given the potential impact of such factors, particularly for the general health of the most vulnerable victims - babies and children under-five, lactating and pregnant women and the elderly - ICRC health delegates and water and sanitation engineers are constantly monitoring the situation, and remain ready to respond should the need arise.

 Non-food and seeds assistance  

Several thousand drought-related displaced and destitute people who have flocked to urban centres have been particularly vulnerable to the recent extreme weather conditions. These people, who are residing in makeshift camps on the fringes of towns and villages with access to only the most essential amenities, are especially susceptible to the inherent risk and spread of epidemics and disease. The ICRC has therefore provided 1.6 tonnes of soap, as well as more than 5,000 tarpaulins as basic shelter material to affected families in destitute camps in East Imi and Gudis (Imi district), and in the outlying villages of Lab, Carmele, Harwin and Hadawe (Gode district) and Deraye (Adaadle district). A reserve stock of a further 6,500 tarpaulins and almost 8 tonnes of soap is also available for immediate distribution as needs become apparent.

In a move designed to improve the long-term food security situation in the region, and to make the most of recent rains, the ICRC has also been providing sorghum seed to rain-fed farmers and agro-pastoralists living far from the Wabi Shebele River. Many of these people have been without any income-generating means for several months, and are not in a position to purchase seeds to plant short-cycle crops. The ICRC has moved quickly to distribute 10 kg of seed to families in several locations: 5,600 families in Denan, 1,600 in Bohlo Hagere and a further 400 families in various villages in and around Gode district have received 133 tonnes of seeds.

 Veterinary Intervention  

In view of the impact of sudden, torrential rains on the severely weakened livestock in the area, the ICRC has also undertaken an emergency veterinary programme in Gode Zone, in co-ordination with South-East Rangelands Project authorities. In order to maximise the chances of survival of local herds, veterinary drugs which combat the most common ecto and endo parasites have been distributed to nomadic herdsmen to treat more than 100,000 head of livestock - mainly cattle, but also sheep and goats.

 Food pipeline and logistics  

The urgency of the situation and the difficulties in negotiating a vast inhospitable region using ground transport, initially meant th at air bridges had to be set up linking two airports in Ethiopia - Gode in the south and Dire Dawa in the north - with the ICRC regional logistics base in Nairobi. In order to ensure a stable food pipeline, the food ration complement has been provided in a combination of Unimix/sorghum/oil, the ratio of which has been determined at the time of distribution. Between the arrival of the first ICRC relief flight at Gode airport on 12 April up until the end of May, more than 2,650 tonnes of emergency food assistance, (Unimix, sorghum, BP5 high-protein biscuits and vegetable oil) have arrived in Ethiopia via these two ICRC air bridges. Flights are continuing, and their frequency will be increased until early July, by which time the total ICRC relief assistance brought in via this route is due to total 8,800 tonnes.

The second phase of ICRC's relief operation will get underway in early June, with the arrival of the first cargo ships into Berbera and Djibouti ports. Over a six-week period, six vessels carrying a total of 6,007 tonnes of emergency food aid (Unimix, sorghum and vegetable oil) will begin to arrrive. With few warehousing facilities in Berbera, cross-border trucks will be utilised to bring the relief directly to ICRC warehouses in Jijiga, Dire Dawa and Gode. It is estimated that this transfer period will take approximately ten days, with supplies dispatched to the final distribution points as soon as possible.

In recent days, apparently insurmountable problems with cargo unloading and handling at the Dire Dawa airport have meant that this airport will no longer be used as a point of entry for air cargo. Consequently, as from 29 May, and for the foreseeable future, two ICRC-chartered Iluyshin 36 aircraft, each with a load capacity of 40 tonnes will fly up to 160 tonnes daily into Gode. Bringing incoming cargo of such quantities into what was essentially a military airport servicing a remote region has required a considerable logistical operatio n on the ground. This has included the expansion of the existing ICRC sub-delegation in Gode, in terms of staff and amenities. Five additional experienced expatriate personnel have been posted to Gode. The recently acquired ICRC-warehousing facilities and access road linking the warehouse to Gode airport have both been repaired and rehabilitated. Several additional vehicles especially adapted to local conditions, as well as large quantities of material and equipment have been shipped to Gode to support the enhanced ICRC presence in the region.

Although flights to Dire Dawa are now suspended, the ICRC office in Jijiga continues to provide the logistical base for distributions to Imi district and for planned future distributions to Fik district, both of which are not easily accessible for trucks by road from Gode. The ICRC sub-delegation in Harrar, and the associated Jijiga office are also preparing to receive the first overland shipments of emergency food relief which will be arriving by sea into Berbera Port in the coming days. Negotiations are ahead to secure a third ICRC warehouse in this region so as to ensure all incoming aid can be stored prior to distribution. 


Throughout the distribution process, the ICRC continues to maintain an ongoing dialogue with all government authorities, and parties involved so as to gain assurances regarding the security and safety of personnel when carrying out its relief activities. The sensitive political and security constraints in the Somali region require a continuous concerted effort to ensure that communication lines with local and regional representatives and clan elders remain open at all times. Several recent security incidents in the Jijiga region (not involving ICRC personnel) highlight the necessity of such a policy.


In an effort to ensure a coherent response to the considerable needs of the drought-affected population in south-eastern Ethiopia, to prevent possible overlaps with other programmes and to maximise the exchange of information, the ICRC is co-ordinating all aspects of its assistance programme with other humanitarian organizations, in particular with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS), as well as with several international and non-government organizations. It is also regularly exchanging information with the Ethiopian Government's Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission (DPPC) and UN Agencies.

The various components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement present in Ethiopia - the ICRC, the International Federation and ERCS - are also working in close co-operation 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 has recently carried out an economic security and nutritional survey in the northern districts of Borena Zone. The ICRC team which undertook a similar survey in the conflict areas to the south of Borena Zone has exchanged useful information with it's International Federation counterpart on completion of this survey.

For its part, the ICRC will continue to contribute towards supporting the efforts of the Ethiopian Government in responding to the present situation in the Somali region to ensure that wherever possible, the necessary assistance is available to those most in need.

Ref. LG 2000-069-ENG