Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is appealing for urgent aid for the people in Ethiopia, as Africa's second most populous nation faces its worst drought in 50 years.
The devastating drought sparked by the worst El Niño in records has driven Ethiopia to an alarming state of food insecurity and malnutrition, the agency said. Water and animal feed are scarce in most parts of the country, leading to crop failures and widespread livestock deaths.
Shortage of clean water is also posing a threat to human health, with people drinking water from the same pond as their animals. Malnourished people and animals, some drinking water from murky pond in the north-eastern Afar region of Ethiopia, are seen in a video released by the FAO on 7 March.
"This is dirty water and people are drinking it. So, it's not only going to affect their lives, but the diseases that goes along with it, because they are drinking water from the same pond where animals defecate, where animals are drinking," said Patrick Kormawa, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa.
"Our appeal to the international community is to support development organizations like FAO, to be able to provide safe drinking water, to be able to provide water for the animals, to be able to provide water for the crops, so that people will have a decent life. This is a catastrophe," Kormawa added.
There are extremely high livestock mortality rates due to poor grazing resources, feed shortages and limited water in the Afar Region and this has led to sharp declines in milk and meat production – a vital source of nutrition for these communities.
"I lost 25 goats. We lost most of our cattle," said cattle herder, Oumer Beri. "We received animal feed and hay. Some of our animals were saved because of this support. But this is not enough and we need more animal feed support to save our remaining animals."
The El Nino weather phenomenon has caused drought and flooding across Africa, leaving 20m people short of food in the south of the continent and 14m in the east, the United Nations said. The number in need is greatest in Ethiopia. Famine, triggered by war and drought, killed one million people in Ethiopia in 1984. The nation now has one of Africa's fastest-growing economies but many people are still small-scale farmers and herders dependent on seasonal rains.
The drought is not just a food crisis – above all, it is a livelihood crisis. FAO is urgently appealing for $13m (£9.18m) by the end of March for seed support – both food crop and forage seed – to enable them to provide survival feed for drought and core breeding stock to livestock-dependent households as well as continuing their work to provide safe and separate water resources for animals and people.