An international delegation visited one of the worst-affected areas on Friday near the border with Somalia, which suffers from widespread drought as well.
Ethiopia’s disaster relief chief Mitiku Kassa told The Associated Press that the country needs more than $1bn for emergency food assistance.
Seasonal rains have been critically small and local cattle are dying. The number of drought victims has risen by two million people in the past four months.
The risk of an acute food and nutritional disaster is “very high,” the disaster relief chief said.
The International Organisation for Migration said hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, with the problem compounded as people pour into Ethiopia from Somalia.
A United Nations humanitarian envoy said donor fatigue and similar crises elsewhere have hurt aid efforts. Both Somalia and neighboring South Sudan are among four countries recently singled out by the United Nations in a $4.4bn aid appeal to avert catastrophic hunger and famine. Already, famine has been declared for two counties in South Sudan.
“Our main concern should be for this drought in Ethiopia not to degenerate into a famine,” said the humanitarian envoy, Ahmed Al- Meraikhi. The United Nations has warned that Ethiopia’s drought will pose a severe challenge to the humanitarian community by mid-July with the current slow pace of aid.
Along with the drought, Ethiopia also faces an outbreak of what authorities call acute watery diarrhea, though critics have said the government should call it cholera instead.
“I’ve never seen the resources so poor to respond to the crisis,” the country director for aid group Save the Children, John Graham, said of the drought. “It is very worrying. These people are not going to be able to continue to survive in these dilapidated displaced people’s camps. It could get very much worse. We are also worried that some of the children affected by the drought may die.”