More than 10m people, including an estimated third of a million newborn babies, are at risk from Ethiopia’s worst drought in half a century, Save the Children has warned.
The charity has called on UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon to raise the growing humanitarian crisis when he addresses a meeting of the African Union in the country’s capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday.
The UK-based charity has warned that an El Nino-driven drought that started in June has left an estimated 10.1m people in need of food aid, more than three decades after scenes of starvation and death in Ethiopia first came to the attention of the West. The crisis is one of just two humanitarian crises in the world — the other is the civil war in Syria.
John Graham, Save the Children’s Ethiopia country director, warned a £1bn drought appeal has so far raised less than a third of the target and called for foreign aid to help assist the Ethiopian government.
He said: “The world is dealing with a multitude of massive humanitarian crises from Syria to Yemen and South Sudan, but the scale of the drought in Ethiopia is like nothing I’ve seen before in the 19 years that I’ve lived in this country. This is a code red emergency and it needs to be treated like one, yet I have never seen such a small response to a drought of this magnitude from the UN or the international community.”
Save the Children estimates some 350,000 children are expected to be born in affected areas between March and August this year.
It says giving birth in “a desperate situation” with food shortages and livestock dying in large numbers is “extremely dangerous for both newborns and their mothers”.
Mr Graham added: “If emergency funding doesn’t escalate very soon, there is a real risk of reversing some key development progress made in Ethiopia over the past two decades, including the reduction of child mortality rates by two thirds, and halving the percentage of the population living below the poverty line.
“The Ethiopian government has shouldered much of the funding burden for this crisis to date but if they don’t get more immediate help from foreign donors they may be forced to redirect funding from other vital areas, including education and maternal and child health programmes, in order to buy life-saving food aid.”
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