29 March 2006

Ethiopia: 2.5 Million People Affected By Drought - Meles

Nairobi — An estimated 2.5 million Ethiopians are suffering from the effects of the drought that has wreaked havoc in the Horn of Africa, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said.

"This year, due to the severe danger of drought in several pastoralist areas, particularly in the Somali and Oromiya regional states, not less than 2.5 million people have been exposed to danger," Meles said on Tuesday in his report to parliament on the current economic and political situation in Ethiopia.

The crisis had been exacerbated by difficulties transporting food to the remote Somali region, damaged water wells and low livestock prices, which had fallen by about 60 percent, he said. "In order to alleviate shortage of drinking water, intensified effort is being exerted to repair water wells, drill new ones and transport water in tankers," he said.

According to the United Nations, at least 1.7 million people have been affected by drought in Ethiopia - 1.5 million in the Somali Region and 250,000 in the Borena zone of Oromiya Region, close to the Kenyan border. Humanitarian organisations have estimated that one-third of the boreholes in the southern Borena area had broken down due to lack of spare parts and that patoralists were walking between 40 km and 150 km in search of water in the southeastern Somali Region.

Commenting on politics, Meles said that he had given the main opposition party three weeks to take charge of the capital's administration, a responsibility the party boycotted to protest the alleged rigging of parliamentary and local council elections in May 2005. The Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) has until 18 April to take up its responsibility.

"If the elected representatives are unable to assume the administration in accordance with the law [...] a caretaker administration should be put in place for one year," after which new elections would be held, Meles said. The CUD has been divided on whether to assume the running of the City Council.

Opposition-led protests in June and November against alleged polling fraud led to deadly street violence, resulting in the death of at least 84 people and the arrests of thousands.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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