By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Poor spring rains have made Ethiopia's worst drought in 50 years even more severe, and the government estimates the number of districts suffering a humanitarian emergency has risen by nearly one-fifth in three months.
The new figures will feed into the current revision by the government and aid agencies of a joint appeal in December for $1.4 billion for more than 10 million people, some of them herders whose cattle are lying dead on the dry, dusty ground.
The number of priority 1 districts - the most severe category on a four-point scale - rose to 219 in March from 186 in December, an 18 percent rise, the government's National Disaster Risk Management Commission said.
This points to "a deteriorated humanitarian situation", the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said late on Monday. Ethiopia has around 750 districts.
Priority 1 districts have a "very severe lack of adequate food security" which "may include excess mortality" and "very high and increasing malnutrition", according to the government's Early Warning and Response Directorate.
The number of priority 1 districts has risen by almost 350 percent since February 2015.
Aid agencies have said the February-April spring rains are performing poorly. In some of the worst-hit areas, the rains have failed three times in a row, Save the Children said.
"Rains are now two months overdue," the charity said in a statement on Friday. "Places like Sitti Zone in the east, and the remote Afar region in the north, have seen barely any rain."
These areas are mainly home to livestock herders who have been hit hard by shortages of water and fodder.
Kim Pozniak, a spokeswoman for Catholic Relief Services, visited eastern Haraghe zones in early April.
"The landscape there really looks apocalyptic - it's just gray dust and stone," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"There were dead cattle lying everywhere in between the cactuses. The locals were telling me there are so many dead cattle, not even the hyenas can eat them all."
The crisis is expected to worsen until August when people hope to harvest crops they will plant in June to catch the summer rains.
The total number of "hotspot" districts in need of aid rose by 3 percent to 443 from 429, the disaster commission said.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by xx; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)