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Urgent Action Needed to Avert Major Crisis for Millions of Ethiopians

By Oxfam

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As millions of Ethiopians face an escalating humanitarian crisis, international aid agency Oxfam is urging the international community to respond to the Ethiopian government's appeal today for $48 million in additional emergency assistance, increasing the total appeal to $320 million. The number of people in need has grown from 3.1 million to 3.8 million, and the funds include $25 million for additional food aid, as well as $23 million for emergency health, nutrition, water and sanitation assistance. Currently, only 47 percent of the appeal is funded.

"Somewhere along the line, three million Ethiopians have become a negligible statistic," said Abera Tola, who directs Oxfam International's humanitarian program in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, acute malnutrition and deaths continue to increase among young children. Outbreaks of measles, meningitis, and other contagious diseases are further endangering communities.

In a joint appeal issued last December, the government and the United Nations asked the international community to contribute $159 million for food and $113 million for other forms of emergency assistance—health and nutrition, water and sanitation, and agriculture—for more than 2.2 million people, as well as an additional 900,000 people in pastoralist areas. Today's appeal reflects both an earlier underestimation of the scope of response required and a delay in implementing the government's new public works initiative, the Productive Safety Net Program. The program is designed to support five million people in chronic need of food assistance, but its slow start means that many of its intended beneficiaries will now need emergency aid to make it through the next few months.

Yet just how quickly donor countries will respond to the new appeal is an open question. Since the December appeal, they have contributed 75 percent of the requested food and just 27 percent of needs other than food in response to one of the world's major forgotten emergencies. This delayed donor response has contributed to the current crisis.

Food aid is not enough. And pledges of aid will do no good if donors fail to follow through now, before the rainy season makes it impossible for aid groups to deliver the urgently needed assistance.

"To save people's lives and break the cycle of drought, we must protect people's health and livelihoods as well," said Tola. "This means ensuring that people have safe drinking water and health services, as well enabling them to replant their crops and protect their herds."

The recent heavy rains in Somali region have caused flooding that has destroyed homes, washed away people and livestock, and further burdened communities already struggling from years of drought.

"Rain is not an instant miracle," said Sisay Getachew, a disaster preparedness and management officer for Oxfam. "The positive impact of the rain will not be felt for two to three months, when the cattle, sheep, and goats give birth. Then people will have milk, meat, and animals to sell. For now, they must be supported in terms of food, water, and health services."

In January, Oxfam was the one of the first agencies to respond to the non-food needs identified in the appeal. In pastoral areas of Afar, livestock were dying by the thousands, depriving herding communities of their primary source of food and income and increasing their vulnerability to future droughts. Working through local partners, Oxfam mobilized indigenous animal specialists to treat more than 400,000 cattle and take other steps to prevent disease and keep their livestock alive. Oxfam is also funding water and agricultural support programs and planning to support drought recovery projects.

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