Many parts of eastern and southern Ethiopia are experiencing severe drought after the rains failed last year
One of the worst hit regions is Borana, some 650 kilometres south of Addis Ababa in Oromia state, which neighbours Kenya.
“Six people have died in Dire and Moyale districts. We are now struggling to deliver food and medical supplies,” the Borana region’s administrator, Abdulkadir Abdi, told journalists visiting the area. Three children and two adults have died in Liben and Guji districts in the region’s east and north respectively.
Hospital sources confirmed that the deaths were related to hunger and lack of clean water.
Chala Wordofa, the head of Oromia’s Disaster Prevention and Control office, acknowledged that parts of the region have had a long dry season, but added that the authorities are keenly monitoring the situation.
“At the moment there is no immediate threat, but things could get out of control if sufficient quantities of food and water are not delivered on time,” he said.
However, speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi downplayed the situation in Borana, saying it was simply due to “failure of the mid-year (meher) rains and will not affect our speedy economic growth”.
Mr Zenawi dismissed the reports of human and livestock deaths during his briefing to parliament on national economic issues, but opposition MPs said the situation was critical and called for urgent government action.
According to a report by humanitarian agencies, about 8 million people in Ethiopia require food aid, 1 million of them urgently.
Ironically, Ethiopia is facing a food crisis when crop production has risen by 45 per cent in the past five years.
UN and international agencies working on the ground refused to quoted by the media unless the information was confirmed by Ethiopian government officials.
“We know how the situation is worsening but the Ethiopian government is sensitive to a single press statement,” a senior UN official in Addis Ababa said.However, a UN assessment report indicates that 29 schools have been forced to close and more than 4,000 children have dropped out of school in Borana district due to severe climatic conditions and migration by the local pastoral community.
According to aid agencies, the drought could affect the government’s ambitious plan to increase school enrollment to 80 per cent in the area as part of the national development programme.
Thousands of animals have died since the beginning of this year, and livestock deaths have reached alarming levels.