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Ethiopia: UN urges support to mitigate most devastating drought in 30 years

8 December 2015 – The United Nations today stepped up its efforts to mitigate the effects of the worst drought to strike Ethiopia in 30 years, with an appeal from the heads of four UN humanitarian bodies for massive international funding now to pre-empt the high risk of death and large scale suffering later.

"We know this is coming. We know how to prevent it. We simply have to act, now," they wrote in an opinion article in the Huffington Post.

"So far, donors have provided an additional $200 million in aid, but there are early indications that the amount needed to make sure lives are not lost could be around $1 billion. Ethiopia needs that money now, if we are to avert a second tragedy in 30 years," they added, referring to the catastrophic drought that killed hundreds of thousands from 1983 to 1985.

The four senior officials – UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA) Stephen O'Brien, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres, UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake – stressed that Ethiopia is far different from 30 years ago and its Government is now leading the way with decisive action.

"With the leadership of the Government and the support of the international community, Ethiopians can survive this crisis without witnessing a repeat of the devastating famine that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives 30 years ago," they wrote, noting that back-to-back droughts exacerbated by the strongest El Niño phenomenon on record have pit 10 million people in need of Government support.

By early next year, projections indicate that 400,000 children could suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition, a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate treatment, with some having massive loss of body fat and muscle that makes them look almost elderly, and others becoming puffy with their hair.

"Both sets of symptoms mean there is a high risk of death," the four warned. "The key to stopping this crisis in its tracks is early warning followed by decisive action."

They noted that the Government's safety net programme, the largest in Africa, will assist eight million of the poorest Ethiopians to access food.

"The Government has raised the alarm and international aid agencies have tried to mobilize funds and action. But with multiple crises around the world and record numbers of people displaced by conflict, they have had limited success. There are many claims on donor funds and by global standards, Ethiopia does not look urgent," they wrote.

"By the time it looks urgent, it will already be too late. We must not repeat the mistake of 30 years ago, when the world ignored the unfolding crisis for far too long and only heeded the alarm when the situation was beyond control. This time, we need urgent, rapid action to scale up our support to the Ethiopian Government and people.

"And the good news is that we have every chance of success. By investing now, we can safeguard three decades of development and billions of dollars of assistance that have helped Ethiopia to become one of the most successful economies on the African continent."

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