20 September 2007

Ethiopia: UN Report Warns of Food Crisis in Ogaden

Parts of eastern Ethiopia could face a major food crisis if the shortage in the region is not immediately addressed, an inter-agency United Nations report released Wednesday concluded.

The humanitarian situation in Ethiopia's Somali Regional State has worsened considerably in recent months due to increased fighting between government forces and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The government has placed commercial trade restrictions on areas where military operations are taking place which have "aggravated" the situation, according to the report. The price of food has nearly doubled, and livestock prices have decreased by as much as 33 percent.

The United Nations humanitarian assessment team visited the Somali Regional State from August 30 to September 5. Their much-anticipated report focused mainly on the humanitarian situation.

In the report, the assessment team "predicts rapid deterioration in the nutritional status of people within two to three months if commercial food continues to be available only in limited quantities."

To address the food shortage, the report calls for a substantial increase in commercial food deliveries and the immediate provision of emergency food aid for 600,000 people, stating that "food distributions should be impartial and should reach all intended beneficiaries."

The UN team also expressed concern at the "alarming" human rights situation, noting that "people in these areas fear for their individual safety and security and expressed trepidation at being caught in the middle of the ongoing conflict." It called on both sides in the conflict to respect the rights of civilians, especially women and children.

"I hope that the government of Ethiopia and the ONLF will do everything in their power to ensure immediate, safe, and full-access for humanitarian organizations into the region," said John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator. "It was a good sign that the mission was able to visit, and I hope that this cooperation can continue. We are currently discussing this with the government."

The UN team visited only three of the five administrative zones in the Somali Regional State where military operations are taking place. The report says that the regional government proposed that the UN team visit the other two administrative zones, the Fik and Warder Zones, but due to time constraints, the teams were unable to visit either area.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Ogaden Human Rights Committee accused the Ethiopian government of imposing restrictions on the UN team. The group said it "deplores its [the UN team's] inability to visit real crime scenes where gross human rights violations took place." In an interview with allAfrica last week, leaders from the OLNF said that the Fik and Warder zones were the areas where government forces have committed their worst human rights atrocities.

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