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Update 00/01 on ICRC activities in Ethiopia (Conflict and drought in Ethiopia)

07-04-2000 Operational Update

 1. Introduction  


Over the past two years, seasonal rainfalls in the Horn of Africa have failed or have been poor. This has resulted in the loss of large numbers of livestock and huge quantities of food products. Whole economies have been disrupted and many people have become destitute and have started to roam as displaced persons in search of food and pasture. Pastoral areas of south-eastern Ethiopia, northern Kenya and parts of Somalia bordering Ethiopia have been particularly hard hit. The threat of starvation is real and deaths resulting from hunger have already been observed in some areas.

This drought has been compounded in many areas by present or past conflict. Much land which under normal circumstances would have been available for grazing and agriculture has become inaccessible due to insecurity. To make matters worse, access for aid agencies to areas beset by both drought and conflict is very difficult and at times impossible because of security constraints. The combination of drought and conflict in the Horn of Africa is affecting most particularly Ethiopia and Somalia. This update deals with the particularly precarious combination of conflict, drought and security hazards in south-eastern Ethiopia and the ICRC's initial response.

 The ICRC's assessment     of the situation  

The ICRC has carried out three major assessments in the Gode and Afdher Zones of the Somali National Regional State (SNRS): one in mid-December 1999, another at the end of February 2000 and one in late March. The first survey revealed that cattle herds were most affected by drought but that no food relief was necessary for the population. Since then, the situation has deteriorated and the subsequent assessments have clearly shown that, should the " Gu " rains fail by the end of April, the Gode Zone and bordering areas will be affected by a major nutritional disaster with a very high death toll. According to the available meteorological data, below-normal rainfall associated largely with the La Nina weather phenomenon is to be expected over the next three months in south-eastern Ethiopia. A substantial relief operation involving the Ethiopian authorities, the Red Cross, United Nations agencies and NGOs has now become a top priority in the region. The ICRC will contribute to the efforts of the Ethiopian government and will coordinate its response with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, UN agencies and NGOs.

 2. Humanitarian situation  


Pastoralists and agro-pastoralists make up the majority of the population in the SNRS, i.e. for most of the population livestock remains the essential economic base. To a much lesser degree, rain-fed farming provides a source of food and income. Along the perennial Wabe Shebelle river, seasonal flooding and pump irrigation enables riverine farmers to produce crops (including fodder) out of season. The worst-off people in the present drought are cattle pastoralists living far away from the Wabe Shebelle, and agro-pastoralists who rely on rain-fed farming. Some of them have become totally destitute after their livestock died following the absence for two consecutive years of " Gu " rains (April to June) and " Deyr " rains (October to December).

Whereas one to three consecutive failures of rainy seasons would not be considered particular unusual, four failures are. These latest failures of rainy seasons have taken a heavy toll on livestock and thus disrupted the economy. As a result, many people have become dependent on food aid.

 A pattern of a progressive destitution  


When the rains failed during the 1999 " Gu " season, livestock owners moved most of their animals far away towards Jijiga, Fik, Imi, Belet-weyn, and other areas in search of pasture, covering distances of up to 400 kilometres. However, pastures in these areas were quickly depleted as larger than usual numbers of animals came to graze. Livestock owners then walked the animals back to Gode in time for the expected " Dyer " rains. Water and grazing on the way was scarce and many animals (sick, old and young) died during the journey. Then the 1999 " Dyer " rains also failed. From April 1998 to November 1999, elders estimate livestock losses at between 50-70 %. The animals that are still alive are in very poor condition and susceptible to a wide range of diseases.

Some people who have lost their livestock have moved to the nearest settlements. They have become internally displaced and totally destitute. In most places visited, destitute peep are housed either with host families or in camps and are the hardest hit by the present drought.

Recent ICRC surveys of the communities in the area have identifi ed " pockets " with high rates of malnutrition, particularly in Denan, Imi, Gode district and Adaadle. Although the communities outside these pockets are, broadly speaking, less affected, their situation is fragile. Should the " Gu " rains, expected at the end of April at the latest, fail yet again, there looms the threat of a disastrous famine striking the whole Gode area and possibly beyond.


 Most affected districts  

  •  Imi district  

 Gudis : there is neither pasture nor farming; both food production and livestock trade have ceased to exist; agro-pastoralists have gathered in the village waiting for assistance; the ratio of destitute people arriving: village population is 2,500:1,000; extremely high rates of malnutrition have been observed, exacerbated by a previous measles outbreak; crude mortality rates are very high at 10 deaths per day per 10,000 people (nutrition experts qualify above 5 deaths/day/10,000 persons as a " major catastrophe " and above 1 as a " serious situation " ); sanitation is poor and water scarce.

 East-Imi : large amounts of livestock have been lost; agro-pastoralists, forced to leave the bush, have gathered in the village; ratio destitute people: village population is 2,500:2,500; high rates of malnutrition observed.

 West-Imi : some livestock was observed and farming took place on the river bank; cases of moderate malnutriti on observed.

 Abakoro : most livestock lost; ratio of destitute people arriving: village population stands at 200:800, moderate malnutrition rate.

  •  Gode district  

 Lab : loss of livestock; an estimated 3-4,000 people live in the village and there are destitute people scattered in the bush; high rates of malnutrition observed.

 Hadawa : loss of numerous livestock, but camel herding important; an estimated 3-4,000 people live in the settlement; no indication of destitute people arriving; high malnutrition observed; crude mortality rate of 2 deaths per day per 10,000 people.

  •  Denan district  

 Denan : economic activity has collapsed after the loss of livestock; no rain-fed farming during the past two years; displaced destitute people number 4,000 per 13,000 of the total population; high rates of malnutrition; many households visited have at least malnourished child; in a camp inhabited by 4,000 displaced drought victims, practically all children aged between 6 months and 5 years show varying degrees of malnutrition; malnutrition was exacerbated by a previous measles outbreak, with a crude mortality rate of 4 deaths per day per 10,000 people; hygiene conditions are poor and water is scarce.

  •  Adaadle district  

 Deraye : 4,250 newly arrived destitute people in addition to 8,500 resident s. Most of the inhabitants can still afford one meal per day but destitute people eat only occasionally. One water tanker from SCF-US manages to supply the town with only approximately 15,000 litres of water per week. The present mortality rate is 3.9 deaths per day per 10,000 people.

In Bolo Hagare , the ratio of newly arrived destitute people: resident population is 1,000:7,500. The nutritional situation is better than in Deraye, and the mortality rate stands at 1.22 deaths per day per 10,000 people.

 3. Humanitarian response  


The Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission (DPPC) of the Ethiopian government has started to distribute 12.5 kg of wheat/person/month from the World Food Programme (WFP) and USAID. The food is given to the entire population of the Gode zone, that is, some 300,000 beneficiaries. In terms of nutritional value, this represents roughly 1,390 Kcal/person/day. In addition, the Ministry of Health and MSF-Belgium have completed a measles vaccination campaign in the whole of the Gode zone. The Ogaden Welfare Society, a local NGO, has started to distribute blended food in Denan and Imi districts. Other NGOs have opened therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres, or are trucking water .

For its part, the ICRC it has been active in the region since last year and has carried out the following activities:

  • a water-supply project in Gode town to increase water supply to the town and to connect the hospital and five schools to the city water network;

  • a short-term health programme, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, to help decentralize primary health care through the provision of construction material and medical assistance;

  • support to five communities in Afder zone in the digging or rehabilitation of wells;

  • Implementation of a veterinary project involving raising the awareness of nomads on medicine. Another part of the programme concerned the control of vectors of trypanosomiasis. A course was held for 122 pastoralists from the region on drug treatment for their livestock, while 45 others were trained in veterinary disease awareness.

  • made follow-up visits to 15 villages where community health workers had been trained by the ICRC in basic community health and were working independently but under Ministry of Health supervision.

In view the deteriorating situation, the ICRC has decided to implement immediately an emergency programme for all people in the districts of Imi, Gode, Denan and Adaadle. A total of 188,000 beneficiaries will thus be assisted in the Gode zone. It should be noted that the initial figure of beneficiaries and the quantities of the monthly rations may have to be increased on the basis of new findings during the operation which is being launched now.

The primary objective of the emergency relief programme is to balance the food distributed by the DPPC by adding pre-cooked fortified blended food, as well as oil for energy. The ICRC assumes that the DPPC is in a position to continue to provide 12.5 kg wheat/person/month to the whole population of the four districts mentioned above. If necessary, the programmes will last until the next harvest season, at the end of December 2000. If the expected " Gu " rains are adequate, the programme may be terminated by the end of June. The monthly ration per person will be:

  • wheat

  • blended food

  • oil

12.5 kg/month/1,390 Kcal/person/day (DPPC)

4 kg/month/445 Kcal/person/day (ICRC)

2 kg/month/590 Kcal/person/day (ICRC)

Combined, the portions will give a daily energy intake of 2,425 Kcal/person/day.


The food required (some 550 MT/month) will be mobilized by the ICRC logistics base in Nairobi. Given the urgency, the very poor road conditions and the possibility that they will deteriorate even further with the " Gu " rains, the food will initially be flown to two logistics bases in Gode and Jijiga from Nairobi. Roughly 25 rotations/month by an Ilyushin to Gode (for the districts of Gode, Denan and Adaadle) and roughly 8 rotations/month by to Jijiga (for the Imi district) will be necessary.

Locally subcontracted trucks will be used for the transport of the food from the logistics bases of Gode and Jijiga.



The food will be handed over to the village elders who will organize the actual distributions under the of supervision ICRC. The local ICRC staff in Gode, Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) staff and ERCS volunteers have experience in distributions from the 1997 relief operations due to large-scale flooding caused, at th at time, by El Nino . ERCS staff and volunteers of the Jijiga branch and the Gode sub-branch will be involved in the handling of relief goods at the various reception and destination points.

 Veterinary emergency intervention  

To maximize the survival chances of about 100,000 head of livestock during the drought and possibly the beginning of the rainy season, the ICRC will provide assistance by reducing the impact of endo-ecto parasites and controlling the most common bacterial diseases. Drugs will be distributed/administered by veterinary assistants from the South East Rangelands Project (SERP).

 Water and sanitation  

In the Afdher zone, the ICRC continues to support the digging or rehabilitation of five wells (see above). In Denan and Gudis towns, most wells have dried up. In case the NGOs, which presently supply these towns with water trucks, are unable to increase the amount of water delivered, the ICRC will step in with its own water trucks


 4. Other Activities in Ethiopia and Eritrea  


In response to the Eritrean-Ethiopian international conflict, the ICRC endeavours to ensure that humanitarian law is respected and that protected populations are treated in accordance with the relevant provisions of this law. The ICRC has been visiting prisoners of war and interned civilians regularly in order to ascertain that their treatment and conditions of detention comply with provisions of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions.

In cooperation w ith the ERCS, in Tigray the ICRC has assisted internally displaced people and taken substantial measures for conflict preparedness and response, such as training field surgeons in war surgery, boosting surgical stocks in civilian hospitals, upgrading the ambulance fleet of the ERCS's Tigray Branch and training first-aid volunteers.

In Ethiopia, ICRC activities continue to focus on: visits to large numbers of detainees held in federal and regional places of detention, in connection with the change of government in 1991 or for reasons of State security, to assess their conditions of internment and, more particularly, to monitor the implementation of judicial guarantees; transmission of Red Cross messages between family members separated by the conflict; rehabilitation programmes for amputees and the war-injured and; dissemination of humanitarian law to academic circles, Ethiopian police forces and the army.

Ref. LG 2000-046-ENG