From: Anthony Mitchell, Associated Press
Published October 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Drought Threatens the Lives of Some 4 Million People in Southeastern Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Four years of successive rain failures in southeastern Ethiopia have set off a drought that is threatening the lives of 4 million people, the United Nations warned Thursday.


The first unconfirmed reports of deaths from water shortages were beginning to emerge from Ethiopia's Somali region, and local authorities have warned that "panic" was beginning to set in among communities who fear suffering on the scale of the 2000 drought, said a joint U.N. report on the emergency.


An estimated 50,000 people died in the region in 2000, many from diseases like measles that preyed on weakened children, said aid agencies that were involved in relief efforts.


"The Somali region is declining into a crisis situation, with some districts already in a state of emergency," said the report compiled by a team that spent nine days in the region to assess the situation. "There is widespread suffering."


The Somali region, an area the size of Britain with a population of 4 million, is one of the driest and most inhospitable in Ethiopia.


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Regional authorities were not prepared to cope with an emergency, and relief efforts are hampered by the fact that few aid agencies operate in the region, the U.N. said.


There were widespread livestock deaths in the region, and food aid was not getting to communities in need, said the eight-member team.


Vital distributions were "late, inconsistent, or nonexistent," the U.N. said. It added that families are pulling children out of school to help in the search for water, the U.N. said.


Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world, with the average annual per capita income of US$100.


The country's population grows by 2 million a year, while its economy expands by just 3 percent. Agriculture accounts for nearly 40 percent of GDP, but unsustainable land policies are fueling ever-larger emergencies in the country.


Source: Associated Press


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