April 7, 2006

Unfortunately, Rains Mixed Blessing for E. Africa Drought

NAIROBI -- Recent rains across drought-hit east Africa are a mixed blessing which may help crops and grazing, but will also block aid routes and harm weak animals further, British-based charity Oxfam said on Friday.

Millions of people across the region are facing hunger and hardship due to a drought since late 2005 -- which Oxfam estimates will take 15 years to recover from -- but rain has been falling in some parts in the last few days.

"With the coming of the rains in certain areas, some people will begin to return to land where they usually graze their livestock -- but this does not mean the end of the crisis," said Andrew Featherstone, Oxfam Regional Program Manager.

"Far from it: initially the rain will exacerbate an already fragile situation," he added in a statement released in Nairobi.

The rains may complicate aid efforts by heightening the threat from disease in overcrowded relief centers, and turning sandy tracks into impassable muddy roads, the agency said.

"The few surviving animals are very frail and unable to shake the rainwater from their coats. Large proportions of the exhausted and malnourished livestock could die due to the rains and change of temperature," it added.

Tens of thousands of livestock, and several hundred people, have died since the drought began. Exact numbers are hard to gauge, however, given that the worst-hit areas are very remote.

Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have taken the brunt of the drought, though Eritrea, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania are also affected.

"Oxfam is warning that several seasons of good rain are needed to ensure the region can recover," it said.

"In many areas, well over 70 percent of cattle are already dead and the recovery process could take 15 years."

Oxfam said despite the rains, the crisis was going "to get worse before it gets better."

Complacency from the international community could cost thousands of lives.

"The message to governments, donors and the media is that a few days rain does not end a food crisis," Featherstone said.

UN Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland was to launch an appeal for more aid funds later on Friday in Nairobi.