Starved Ethiopians could face tougher times unless food aid supplies that are stuck in Djibouti port arrive quickly in the country. Officials blamed congestion at Djibouti port, land-locked Ethiopia’s main access to the sea.
According to Bloomberg’s ship-tracking data, at least 10 vessels are stranded around the port waiting to unload about 450,000 metric tons of wheat. The Carly Manx vessel, scheduled to arrive at the port on Feb. 22 carrying 50,000 tons of wheat and sorghum, is only now berthed. The Ince Beylerbeyi, initially set to reach the port on Feb. 19, is still waiting to unload 54,250 tons of wheat.
“There’s a whole bunch of ships that are lined up,” John Graham, the Ethiopia director for Save the Children, said by phone from Dire Dawa on Tuesday. “The numbers of berths allocated is not adequate so far.”
Ethiopia is grappling with a growing food crisis as the lack of rain erodes harvests of everything from sorghum to wheat, forcing the country to launch an international appeal.
The nation has historically struggled with hunger, including in the 1980s, when famine and civil war left hundreds of thousands of people dead.
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According to Save the Children, it takes about 40 days to unload ships carrying grain and in total around 120 days to purchase and transport food into Ethiopia through Djibouti.
In Ethiopia, among the world’s poorest countries, the number of people living with hunger has more than doubled since August to more than 10 million, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The number is higher when you add the already 7.9 million people that are supported by a World Bank sponsored safety-net program. There are expected to be at least 450,000 severely malnourished Ethiopian children this year, according to Save the Children.
Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister criticized the international community for slow response to what he said the worst drought the country has seen in 50 years.
“… If something goes wrong, it is the international community who has not come in. The aid provided to us so far is very little and it often came very late. I urge organisations like UNICEF to come in if they think this is a worst case scenario…”
However, some government officials blamed congestion at Djibouti port than short of international response for the delay in the delivery of food aid.
“Of course it [the port] is congested,” Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, said adding that each berth at the port has the capacity to unload around 3,000 tons of grain a day.
“Through negotiation and discussions with the officials, especially Dubai Port World, which manages the port, and STDV, the port agency, the [situation] is improving.”
In October, Ethiopia sought 1 million tons of wheat, more than it bought last season, and further purchase of almost 500,000 tons by the end of this week may add to long waiting times at the port of Djibouti.
DP World states the problem was beyond its control. In a statement it released, DP World explains the problem is caused due to shortage of trucks to transport the food out of the port area.
“We have increased our port capabilities with the recent opening of DP World-managed Doraleh Container Terminal (DCT), enabling Djibouti Port to free up more quay space for food aid deliveries, but the sticking point remains the serious shortage of available trucks to move the goods continuously from the port and across the border to where it is needed – a problem recognised by local authorities and the aid agencies.”
Mitiku Kassa also said the government acknowledges the shortage and responded by adding trucks, building distribution points and temporary warehouses to meet monthly food delivery targets.
Paulette Jones, WFP spokeswoman in Addis Ababa said, “A large quantity of WFP’s food is at the port. These [food] commodities are needed urgently to assist beneficiaries who are still suffering from the impact of the drought, high food prices and [low] global food stocks.”
He also said WFP is exploring the options of using Port Sudan and Berebera in Somaliland to deliver food to northern and the Somali region of Ethiopia.
— Herman J. Cohen (@CohenOnAfrica) March 25, 2016