A U.S. official said Monday he fears Ethiopian officials may be underestimating the country’s needs in its drought crisis, even as the government announced that 4.5 million Ethiopians need food aid, 40 percent more than last year.
“We are concerned that we are underestimating the situation, especially in the southern provinces,” Jason Frasier, mission director of USAID in Ethiopia, said of that country’s food crisis.
Ethiopia’s state minister of agriculture, Mitiku Kassa, said Monday that nearly $400 million is needed to fill the country’s food gap. He said Ethiopia needs to distribute 380 metric tons of food.
A drought centered in the triangle where Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet has sent tens of thousands of people pouring into refugee camps in search of food. The three-way border is a nomadic region where families heavily depend on the health of their livestock.
The head of the U.N. agency for refugees said Sunday that drought-ridden Somalia is the “worst humanitarian disaster” in the world.
Somalis are walking for days or weeks to reach camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. The young and the old are dying en route. Families have little food or money after herds of cattle, goats and camels were wiped out after successive seasons of no rains hit the war-ravaged country.
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, located in northeast Kenya, is seeing thousands of new arrivals daily. More than 380,000 people already live in the camps.
“I must say that I visited many refugee camps in the world. I have never seen people coming in such a desperate situation,” the head of the U.N. refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, said Sunday after seeing new arrivals in Dadaab.
Faduma Sakow Abdullahi, a Somali mother, said her husband died after drinking contaminated water, and that two children died on the way to Dadaab from hunger and exhaustion. Others in need begged for help but she had none to give.
“My journey was like a trip to hell. I have seen and experienced a lot of sufferings on my way to Kenya,” Abdullahi said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I reached a stage in which I didn’t care about whether I die or live.”