Ethiopia: Millions Still Face Drought Hardship

The rains may have eased a severe drought across east Africa this year, but millions still face hardship and it will take herders years to recover from the decimation of their livestock, aid workers say.

Lack of rain from late 2005 into early this yearscorched vegetation and left rivers dry, leaving 11 million people short of food in half a dozen countries across some of Africa's poorest and most arid zones.

Tens of thousands of livestock and several hundred people died from hunger and thirst.

Despite rains in April-June which improved crops and grazing, aid workers say these were erratic and insufficient to revive herds of camels, goats and cows, leaving vulnerable pastoralists without any fallback.

"The worst is still there because the communities are still struggling to cope and survive," said Beatrice Karanja, Oxfam regional media and communications officer in Nairobi.

"They are still relying on food aid."

"It takes something like 10-15 years for them to be able to re-stock. It's far from over."

Kenyan pastoralists were unable to cross borders in search of water and pasture for their animals - as they have done for centuries when trekking vast distances across east Africa's arid plains - as neighbouring Ethiopia and Somalia were also hit.

In some areas, up to 70 percent of cattle died and many pastoralists have come out of the bush in search of food aid.

Even where there is water, quality in some areas is poor with carcasses contaminating sources.

"There are water sources and there is browse (vegetation) for the animals who are left," said Peter Smerdon, a spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Nairobi.

"But for the people who have lost everything, rain means they have drinking water but it doesn't change their lives - particularly because they haven't got any livestock left and that's what they live off."

Some herders are even rethinking their way of life.

"There are very few, if any, actions to help them get their livestock back," Smerdon said.

"Livestock prices are still very high and until they can somehow through remittances or work in towns get some money to buy back some breeding stock - and then they have to wait for them to breed - they will be reliant on external assistance."

In Kenya, where some 3.5 million people still need aid and clashes between herders over resources have become more common, the government says grass is still not nutritious enough in some of the worst-affected areas.

In Somalia, aid workers say while rains helped avert famine, the country will remain in a state of humanitarian emergency in the second half of the year, with around two million people in need of assistance.

WFP and the UN Children's Fund Unicef say outbreaks of fighting and the worst drought in a decade there have created the "bleakest malnutrition situation in years."

The drought is affecting an already poor school attendance in east Africa as families travel long distances for pasture.

As affected communities await the October-December rains, aid agencies are appealing for funds. WFP warned last month it had no cereals to distribute in September in Kenya.

Ironically, Ethiopia is now experiencing devastating floods, which have killed hundreds this month.

"These are communities who suffered from drought, and now the same people are suffering from floods," said Eric Mgendi, communications co-ordinator for ActionAid Kenya.

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