Full-blown emergency threatens Somali region, UN warns
Date: Monday, November 01 @ 14:39:56 UTC
ADDIS ABABA, 28 Oct 2004 (IRIN) - A full-blown emergency is threatening Ethiopia's Somali region, the UN warned on Thursday. Wells are drying up and malnutrition is beginning to set in, according to a joint UN rapid-assessment team sent to monitor the crisis.
The team included the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Food Programme, UN Children's Fund and the UN Development Programme. It said the first "unconfirmed reports" of deaths from water shortages were beginning to emerge from the region, one of the most remote in the country.
"The Somali region is declining into a crisis situation with some districts already in a state of emergency," said the joint UN agencies report. "There is widespread suffering in the Somali region due to the cumulative effects of years of poor rains. Should the present Deyr (short) rains fail or perform poorly, then many zones in the Somali region are facing a full-blown humanitarian emergency."
The team said the situation was resulting from an extensive loss of livestock, which affects the livelihood of the people living in the region. As a result, people are falling sick and some are even dying. The team added that massive environmental degradation and four years of drought in the Somali region "will have repercussions for years to come".
The southeastern Somali region, an area the size of Britain, is one of the driest areas in Ethiopia. Average rainfall in many parts is as low as 250 mm a year. Temperatures hover around 30 degrees (Celsius) every day. Four million people live in the region, which borders Somalia. Many eke out an existence as pastoralists, nomads who herd livestock and sell animals at markets.
The UN warning follows a similar cry for help by regional authorities. Somali region officials said last week that panic was beginning to set in among communities who fear they might suffer on a scale like that of the 2000 drought in the same region. In that year, an estimated 50,000 people died, mainly from measles.
Only a handful of aid agencies work in the Somali region, an area that has witnessed serious insecurity in recent years. The government's response to the crisis was also described as "weak" by the UN team, which spent nine days in the region, reported widespread livestock deaths and said food aid was not getting to the communities in need.
According to the assessment team, vital distributions were "late, inconsistent, or non existent". Children were dropping out of school as families went in search of water, while poor health facilities exacerbated the problems.
Somali region is dependent on two rains - known as the Gu and the Deyr. The Gu rains provide 60 percent of the water needed for the region, while the Deyr supply 30 percent. The Gu rains failed in May 2004 and the Deyr rains are already three weeks late.
"In effect it will lead to a humanitarian disaster due to water and pasture shortages, increase in deaths of livestock and people, deterioration in human health and nutritional status and displacements of families into camp situations," the joint UN report continued.
The UN is calling for a 16-point action plan that includes shipping water into the region. It also said aid organisations should put plans in motion to set up emergency feeding centres and mobile health units. Nutrition assessments should also be undertaken, it concluded.