Cablegate: Un's John Holmes Raises Ogaden Food Delivery Crisis

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1. (SBU) The UN Emergency Response Coordinator and Under
Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes
briefed select representatives of the donor community
September 3 on his discussions with the Ethiopian Government
(GoE) on the "malnutrition crisis" in Ethiopia . He noted
that, while access to the Ogaden had improved since his last
visit, the number of people in Ethiopia at risk had risen
from 4.6 million, as announced by the Ethiopian Government on
June 12, to 8.4 million as concluded by a later joint
assessment. Deputy Prime Minister Adissu confirmed that the
numbers had risen but was skeptical of the higher number,
mentioning a lower figure of 6.1 million. Holmes noted that
critical food needs will continue at least until June 2009
when the rain fed agricultural production in Ethiopia could
return to normal. Holmes warned that the situation could
still get worse and that more resources are still needed.
The main food distribution problem in Ethiopia remains the
Somali region, especially in the Ogaden, due to security
concerns and lack of capacity. While the Ethiopian
leadership says that it supports a WFP/donor proposed "hub
and spoke" approach to expedite food delivery, it has yet to
be implemented. Holmes also raised reported human rights
abuses and the problems of internally displaced persons
(IDPs) and Somali refugees in the Ogaden region. Finally,
Holmes stated that donors need to focus more on agricultural
development and working together with the Ethiopian
government on measures to cope with the cyclical droughts.
Better donor coordination, to include non-traditional donor
countries which deal with Ethiopia as well as a more robust
coordination of donors led by the UN are important. End

Food Crisis

2. (SBU) UN Emergency Response Coordinator and Under
Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes met
with representatives of the donor community on September 3 to
review his trip to Ethiopia's Southern Nations,
Nationalities, and People's region (SNNPR) and Ogaden parts
of the Somali region, and his discussions with Deputy Prime
Minister (DPM) Adissu and review his upcoming meeting with
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Tekeda. The Prime
Minister was not in Addis to meet with Holmes. Holmes first
emphasized that it was unusual for him to make two visits to
a country in less than a year, but that he felt that the
crisis in Ethiopia was not being taken seriously enough. He
noted that access to the Ogaden, both for the UN agencies and
NGOs, had improved since his last visit. Holmes noted that
feeding centers in SNNPR were functioning well and that the
people welcomed food rather than wages in the Productive
Safety Net Program. Food was so expensive, that food
payments for work are preferred. While rains are so far
robust, it is still unclear if it will be sufficient to
ensure another bumper crop from rain-fed agricultural
production this year in Ethiopia. Holmes told the donor
community that food will continue to be needed until at least
the end of 2008 when "normal" harvests could resume, pending
good rains.

3. (SBU) Holmes said based on as yet unapproved results of
the belg harvest assessment, there are now at least 8.4
million people at risk of severe malnutrition in Ethiopia, an
increase from the 4.6 million announced by the government on
June 12. Recounting his discussion with the DPM, Holmes
noted the Ethiopian government did not want to make public
this issue. Holmes urged them to do so in order to secure
additional international food assistance and highlight the
continuing food emergency in Ethiopia and the region. Holmes
made clear to the participants that the situation could still
get worse and urged all representatives to make clear to
their respective capitals the continued need for food,
humanitarian assistance, and other resources.

4. (SBU) Throughout the Somali region, and especially in the
Ogaden, the lack of adequate rains for the past three years
has made the situation bleak. Local officials hoped for rain
to at least provide grazing field for animals. Donor
representatives and Holmes agreed that food distribution was
proceeding in all areas of Ethiopia except the Somali region.

ADDIS ABAB 00002461 002 OF 003

The U.S. Ambassador emphasized that only 30 percent of the
food needed in the Somali region has been delivered and that
it was difficult to confirm the distribution of most of this
food allotment to intended beneficiaries. Holmes noted he
raised with DPM Adissu rumors of food being siphoned off by
the Ethiopian military or by groups aligned to the government
in the Ogaden. The DPM adamantly denied these rumors.
Holmes also raised allegations of human rights abuses by the
Ethiopian military to which the DPM said such reports were
exaggerated, misleading, or not true. Holmes said he pressed
Adissu on the "hub and spoke" food delivery approach for the
Somali region as proposed by the U.S. and WFP which the
Ethiopian Government agreed to support. Adissu reaffirmed
the GoE's support, but Holmes noted that it was still not
being implemented. (Note: The "hub and spoke" approach would
allow for large trucks to carry food from the port of
Djibouti to distribution points in the Ogaden and then allow
smaller trucks to distribute the food. End note.) Insurgency
problems and details over control of storage and delivery,
Adissu said, are constrains to approval and operations, but
he assured Holmes that the Ethiopian leadership will
implement this approach.

Security Concerns

5. (SBU) Holmes remarked to the group that Ethiopia is very
much like other countries which are facing insurgency
problems or areas of conflict. Governments wish to control
food deliveries in their efforts to manage conflict zones.
The U.S. Ambassador raised U.S. efforts to persuade the
Ethiopian leadership to open up the Ogaden and ease
restrictions, from U.S. military officials discussing General
Petraeus, manual on counterinsurgency measures to USAID's
arguments and examples on the effectiveness of a very open
and transparent food delivery system. The U.S. Ambassador
also raised Ethiopian concerns for cross border infiltration
by extremist elements as well as an increase in violent
insurgency operations by domestic rebel groups. But the U.S.
has been arguing to the Ethiopian government for a more
transparent and open delivery process which will, in the end,
prove more effective in getting food to the right
beneficiaries and earn greater support from the local

Solutions and Frustrations

6. (SBU) Holmes suggested that the UN organizations in Addis
Ababa will take a more active approach in coordinating donor
interaction and a common approach with the Ethiopian
government. The donor community must also interact more
cooperatively and with a single message in discussions with
the Ethiopian leadership. The multi-donor PSNP group and new
Humanitarian Subgroup of the Donor Assistance Group were
noted as examples. Donors must also maintain constant links
with headquarters in their respective capitals, noting
especially that the food crisis will continue until next
year, and perhaps beyond, if the main rains prove inadequate.
To cope with the cyclical droughts in Ethiopia, donors must
work with the Ethiopian government on agricultural
development assistance. Over 97 percent of food production
is rain based and there is very little irrigation. An
emphasis on development assistance will help Ethiopia cope
with, and survive, the periodic droughts. The donor group
also agreed that a stronger effort toward coordination, as
well as including non-traditional donor nations which have
close ties with Ethiopia, will be important in pushing the
Ethiopian government into a more pro-active and cooperative
partner in the food distribution to the Somali Region. Such
countries include Russia, China, Israel, and India. The
donors noted the importance of the continuation of current
on-going efforts including the joint UN-US meeting with the
Deputy Prime Minister and regular meetings called by the UN
and also meetings with NGO partners arranged by the U.S.
Embassy. Finally, Prime Minister Meles, expected visit to
New York for the UN General Assembly can be an important
opportunity for the donors group to press the Ethiopian
leadership on the food crisis in the Somali region and Ogaden
and other problems.

7. (SBU) The donor group noted that Holmes, visit, his
second in less than a year, was highly useful and deeply

ADDIS ABAB 00002461 003 OF 003

appreciated. There is a need to have the senior-most
officials from donor countries, as well, visit Addis to
underscore the urgency of the food crisis and the need of the
Ethiopian government to work closer with the donor community
in meeting the urgent food and other needs. Representatives
from Ireland, the UK and Holland stressed "donor fatigue" in
securing additional assistance for Ethiopia. More important,
they expressed deep frustration over the apparent lack of
"urgency" by Ethiopian officials. While Prime Minister Meles
may understand the gravity of the problem, many officials
have not moved, especially in establishing the "hub and
spoke" food distribution or approving NGOs to work in the
region. USAID noted how damaging the slow humanitarian
response was both in terms of lives as well as Ethiopia's
image politically and economically. Holmes noted that the
people he met with in the field also expressed frustration
over the slow distribution of food. Somali region
pastoralists told Holmes that the drought is the worst since
1928, and with Somalia also in crisis they have nowhere to go
to save their animals.

Other Issues

8. (SBU) Holmes said he also raised with the DPM the CSO/NGO
law as being too restrictive on the international donor
community which supports and helps Ethiopia. On his trip to
the Somali region, Holmes visited Lafaissa refugee/IDP camp
outside Jijiga to highlight the problem of the internally
displaced in the region and Ethiopia generally. He noted
that there is no system in place in Ethiopia to handle IDPs
and suggested that a strategy needed to be developed to
handle humanitarian and protection needs of these special


9. (SBU) Holmes cautioned that donor frustration over food
deliveries to the Ogaden must be balanced between valid
security concerns and sovereign issues with humanitarian
concerns. We plan to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister
with the UN chief Fidele Sarassoro and the U.S. Ambassador
plans to have a private meeting with the Prime Minister to
follow-up on the Holmes visit and continue donor efforts to
get the "hub and spoke" approach implemented and NGOs
approved. Further, the U.S. will press on assurances
provided by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister last
month of greater openness and ability by USAID and OFDA to
monitor and coordinate food deliveries in the Ogaden and
other regions. Post strongly recommends that USG principals
raise concerns about humanitarian relief access and
facilitation of food distribution mechanisms with Prime
Minister Meles in bilateral discussions on the margins of the
UN General Assembly. Holmes mentioned that UNSYG Ban would
also raise these issues with Meles in New York. End comment.

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