ETHIOPIA: Children at greatest risk among Afar's drought-displaced
EREBTI, 2 December (IRIN) - Thousands of vulnerable civilians who left their homes in north-eastern Ethiopia in June because of drought are living in poor conditions in an urban area in Afar region, residents and local officials said on 24 November.
"Some 519 families moved to Erebti town from the two most affected kebeles [wards] of Haitan and Aleyta when they started losing their livestock to the drought," a field staff member of an international NGO, who requested anonymity, told IRIN in Erebti.
The official said most of the 68,400 residents of 13 kebeles in Erebti woreda (district) had been affected by drought although those in Haitan and Aleyta were the worst affected.
"For about five months now, we have been sleeping on the floor at this centre. We fear that our children are at risk from the cold and diseases," Zahara Abdu, a mother of six from Haitan, told IRIN. "I came here because we had had no rain for almost three years; our livestock died, we had no food, no milk, nothing."
Holding her weak, youngest child, Zahara said many more children were at risk of malnutrition and often had diarrhoea.
Afar is a semi-arid region inhabited mostly by pastoralists who depend on livestock for survival. Residents said poor rainfall in the past six to 10 years had led to serious drought.
Some of the displaced families have sought refuge at the farmers' training centre in Erebti while others are living in tarpaulin shelters erected nearby.
Since their arrival, the villagers said, they had received sorghum rations from local government authorities but no salt, cooking oil, pulses or non-food aid such as blankets and jerry cans. Some families were living in makeshift shelters near the training centre.
Another villager from Haitan, who declined to be named, said they had written to the local authorities to speed up relief food distribution but had not had received anything since September.
The food was provided by the government and humanitarian partners under an ongoing safety-net programme for existing vulnerable communities.
"The food distributed in September was the June rations; we are now in late November and we have not received anything. We are all suffering but the children are the ones at great risk," the villager said.
Moreover, local officials said, since the arrival of the affected populations in Erebti town, water shortages had increased.
"Water was already a problem but with the increased population, the only water point [a seasonal stream] is not enough," an NGO official said. "Another water point is under construction but before it is completed, life will continue being difficult for the displaced and the residents alike."
The drought has also affected the condition of livestock in the area, with diseases such as contagious caprine pleuro pneumonia (CCPP) and cases of internal and external parasites increasing, residents said.
"There are no veterinary services, so getting medication for the animals is difficult; already the drought has claimed almost half of the livestock in the area," the NGO official said.
In a September report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said compromised food security at household level had been reported in Afar, with a chronic water shortage and outbreaks of acute watery diarrhoea continuing to be of concern for humanitarian actors.
"The performance of 'karma' [main rainy season] that extends from July to September was below normal in most parts of Afar with reports of delayed onset and early cessation," the agency said. "The rains were inadequate and erratic."
However, four days of unexpected rain in late October had alleviated the situation somewhat for some Afar residents.
"These light rains regenerated the pasture in some areas, allowing the people to feed and water their animals and prevented population movement to other areas, but this was short-lived as residents in kebeles where the drought has been severe have not returned home," the NGO official said.
According to OCHA, some 472,000 people in Afar are beneficiaries of relief aid, under the Productive Safety Net Programme.