Poor rains, especially in the Somali and Oromiya regions of Ethiopia, have led to food shortages and prompted the government and its international partners to appeal for US$226.5 million in relief aid for almost three million people, a government official said.
"Although the overall improvement in the food security situation in the country led to reduced numbers of beneficiaries for 2011 - 2.8 million against 5.2 million in January 2010 - it is still 18 percent higher than the November 2010 estimate," Mitiku Kassa, state minister of agriculture, said at the appeal launch on 7 February.
"Poor performance of short rains [has led] to increased beneficiary numbers in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas of southern and southeastern parts of the country, especially the Somali Regional State," Mitiku added. "There is a critical problem due to the failure of 'deyr' and 'hagaya' rains [October-December] in Somali, Borena and Guji."
Half of the people who require food assistance are from the Somali and Oromiya regions, while 14 percent come from Amhara Region. In all these areas, the rains expected between October and December did poorly - a situation attributed by experts to the La Niña weather phenomenon.
"The drought is persisting," Felix Gomez, deputy country director for the UN World Food Programme, told IRIN. "We have seen early migration of livestock [which has] begun to pressurize water points and pasture."
The drought has also led to water shortages in areas like Oromiya, where the number of affected districts has increased from 25 to 33, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
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In Somali, Oromiya and Southern regions, the near complete failure of the October-December rains, has depleted about 80 percent of traditional water sources, which normally cover 80 percent of water needs in pastoral areas, said the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
In many of these areas, pasture availability has become limited, triggering early migration of livestock to the dry season pasture reserve areas. "The continued influx of pastoral communities from central Somalia, and northeastern and northern Kenya into neighboring zones of... Somali... and... Oromiya regions has been reported," the network noted.
"Unusual livestock movements are also taking place within these areas. Livestock body conditions, especially among cattle and shoats [young pigs] has substantially declined as compared to normal in most parts of southern Somali, South Omo, Bale and Borena lowlands."