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Serious food shortages in the Lower Omo

The Ethiopian Government and its humanitarian partners predicted, in October 2009, that 6.2 million people would be in need of food aid between October and December. This was due to ‘poor belg harvests in many belg crop-producing areas caused by the poor performance of the belg (February to May) rains.’ (Humanitarian Requirements Document, October 2009, p. 4).

According to information recently received from Mursiland, the people of the Lower Omo are amongst those who have been badly affected  by these events and prospects for the next harvest, due in January/February, are extremely poor.

The main rains this year (March/April) lasted only about three and a half weeks in Mursiland and the crops were destroyed by drought. Those who have cattle are selling them in the nearest town, Jinka, to obtain grain. Jinka is about one and a half days walk from northern Mursiland and three days from southern Mursiland.  Traders are also taking grain to the Mursi to exchange it for cattle.

The price of a large ox has more than halved over the last six months, falling from around 240 USD (3000 Birr) to around 112 USD (1,400 Birr). The cost of 100 kg. of maize is now between 28 and 32 USD (350 to 400Birr).

Approximately one month ago, a very welcome delivery of relief food, totaling 26,500 kg. of wheat, was delivered by the government to three locations in northern Mursiland (Maganto, Dargush and Mirolu) which are accessible by truck. ‘Large’ families received 200 kg. and ‘small’ families received 100 kg.

According to Mursi tradition and custom, however, those families which received grain have been obliged to share it with relatives and friends from other parts of Mursiland which the food distribution could not reach.  Total relief grain distributed so far to the Mursi amounts, at most, to 4kg. per head of population.

The Omo flood level this year was unusually low - so low that the cultivation plots of many people received no flood water at all. These people will not be able to plant and the overall size of the next flood-retreat harvest, due in February, will therefore be much smaller than usual.The next rain-fed harvest is not due until June 2010.

Other groups in the Lower Omo who are at least as badly affected as the Mursi include the Bodi, Surma, Kwegu, Nyangatom, Muguji and Kara. One report suggests that, amongst the Surma, many people have only wild leaves to eat and another that symptoms of severe malnutrition (kwashiorkor), have been observed amongst Nyangatom.


David Turton

5 November 2009

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