The international community has just three weeks to provide $245 million in emergency food aid to help prevent a potentially catastrophic escalation in severe acute malnutrition (SAM) cases in drought-afflicted parts of Ethiopia from the end of April when the main ‘hungry season’ begins.
“We only have until the end of February for the international community to pledge and disburse more funds for urgently needed food aid. It can take around 120 days to purchase and transport food into Ethiopia through Djibouti, so we all must step up now otherwise children and families in dire need of assistance could simply not have any food from outside,” warns Save the Children Ethiopia Country Director John Graham.
“The present situation here keeps me awake at night – if these emergency funds do not arrive in time, there is no question that there will be a critical fracture in the food aid supply pipeline during the main ‘hungry season, which peaks in August.”
As Ethiopia continues to endure the devastating impacts of its’ worst drought in 50 years, which has already left a staggering 10.2 million people currently in need of emergency food assistance including six million children, the narrow window for the international community to act is rapidly closing, according to Mr Graham.
Over 400,000 children will need urgent supplementary feeding for SAM this year – a condition that can lead to physical stunting and mental development delays – while 1.7 million children and pregnant and lactating women suffering from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) are at real risk of sliding into further crisis if the food pipeline breaks down.
“In 2016, when we have all the right systems in place to prevent a massive humanitarian disaster, it would be absolutely unforgivable if the international community failed to act – we all said ‘never again’ after the tragedy of 1984, and again after the famine in Somalia in 2011 – so now is crunch time and they must step up before it’s too late.”
Despite early warning alarm bells ringing for months, UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s call for urgent support is still not being acted upon quickly enough. Currently the combined Ethiopian Government and UN Appeal for $1.4 billion to combat the impact of the drought remains less than half funded.
“The government have shouldered much of the financial burden so far, but if they don’t get more immediate help from foreign donors they may be forced to redirect funding from other vital areas, including education and maternal and child health programs, in order to buy life-saving food aid,” says Mr Graham.
A series of failed rainy seasons triggered by El Nino weather system has devastated food production and livelihoods across vast swathes of the country, causing food crops to fail, livestock to perish, and severe water shortages leaving 5.8 million people in need of urgent access to drinking water.
“Clean water and hygienic conditions in stabilisation centres where children are treated for malnutrition is critical, as is sufficient water and nutritious food when they return home to help prevent a cycle of repeat child in-patients in already overstretched rural clinics,” says Mr Graham.
In many drought-affected areas, dried up wells, springs and rivers have led to a sharp increase in chronic skin conditions such as scabies, with ever-worsening dehydration weakening people’s health and leaving them vulnerable to communicable diseases.
“Families should not be put in a position where they need to make heartbreaking decisions about what they use precious water for – to drink and cook with, or to bathe their children and prevent the spread of disease,” adds Mr Graham.
“The situation here is as grave as I have ever seen it in the 19 years I have spent in Ethiopia and we now only have a tiny fraction of time for the international community to help to stop this.”