The United Nations in Ethiopia has stepped up warnings over the drought in Afar region, saying a "major emergency" could be just weeks away.
The UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (UN-EUE) said the first signs of malnutrition were being reported from the region and neighbouring areas in northeastern Ethiopia. It urged "all agencies" to plan for emergency assistance after weather experts predicted below-normal rainfall for Afar.
The EUE also quoted the US Agency for International Development’s Food Early Warning System (FEWS) as saying that malnutrition was expected at the end of the month.
Rising food prices in the main towns – maize has jumped by some 200 percent - have already hit families. The EUE said the region had "now reached the first step of what could be in a few weeks' time a major emergency".
"Compared to the situation one month ago, sudden changes are being observed as the situation quickly starts to deteriorate," the report said. "The turning point occurred in mid-June when livestock started to die." It noted that non-food interventions to prevent livestock from dying could help suffering families.
The international donor community – which supplies most of the country's food aid - is carefully monitoring the drought in Afar. On Friday, major donors will be flown over the region by the Ethiopian government to see for themselves the scale of the problem.
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