– ‘Skipping meals is common’ –
Even though Ethiopia has contributed $117 million of its own money this year and the international community $302 million, a funding gap of $481 million remains, according to the United Nations.
In the drought ravaged town of Warder, the hundreds of displaced families crowding a ramshackle camp say handouts of rice and sugar are becoming less frequent.
“Skipping meals is common,” said Halimo Halim, a grandmother living with her children in a shelter made of sticks and pieces of plastic. “Skipping is the order of the day.”
Families of nomadic herders such as Halimo’s are central to the economy of Ethiopia’s southeastern Somali region.
The drought has deprived goats, sheep and donkeys of water, killing them or making them so weak that by the time the rains come they perish in the cold.
Around 465,000 people who have lost their livestock have migrated to an estimated 250 camps in the region.
The settlements are often located near water sources, but that presents its own problems.
In Warder, workers are present around the clock at nearby wells to make sure people drawing water chlorinate it before they drink it, lest they contract “acute watery diarrhoea”, which has broken out in the region.
Some aid workers say this is actually cholera, which Ethiopia has long been accused of covering up to protect its image.
– Paying the bill –
Aid agencies have turned to so-called “non-traditional” donors like the Gulf countries for funding.
At the same time they are keeping a nervous eye on budget negotiations in top funder the United States, where President Donald Trump has proposed slashing the aid budget.
But some humanitarians privately complain that the Ethiopian government isn’t doing enough to call attention to its plight.
They argue that Addis Ababa does not want to distract from its development gains or resurrect the old image of Ethiopia as a place of mass starvation.
“There is no shortage of funds to combat drought,” communications minister Negeri Lencho insisted earlier this month.
If the international community doesn’t send more money, Mitiku said the government would be “forced” to tap its development budget for drought relief in July.
But with a lead time of about four months required to procure emergency food, the UN says that may be too late.
In Warder, those uprooted by drought, like Sanara Ahmed, are wondering how long they can survive on unreliable food handouts.
“Some support was there, but it cannot substitute for our dependability on our livelihood,” Sanara said.