ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - More than two million Ethiopians are in need of food aid due to drought caused by one of the worst La Nina weather phenomenon in a decade, the United Nations said.
La Nina, which was blamed for Australia's floods this year, is an abnormal cooling of waters in the Pacific Ocean that wreaks havoc with weather patterns across the Asia-Pacific region, and has brought poor rains to the Horn of Africa.
The U.N. humanitarian affairs office (UNOCHA) said the March-May rainy season had largely failed in Ethiopia's lowland areas, and appealed for $75 million in food and other assistance to meet the needs of two million people.
"Pasture and traditional water sources un-replenished by rains have been depleted in most of the affected areas," UNOCHA said in a report released late on Wednesday.
"Animal body conditions are declining rapidly, resulting in lower livestock prices at market even as the price of staple cereals is increasing."
An additional one million people are also seeking relief aid throughout Ethiopia -- one of the world's largest recipients of foreign aid, receiving more than $3 billion in 2008, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
UNOCHA said increases in food and fuel prices have worsened the situation, while unrest in the Arab world has depleted demand for cattle exports -- a vital source of income for pastoralists in the regions.
UNOCHA said the emergency conditions in the affected areas are likely to persist until the next rainy season in October.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had previously said his country may not need any food aid within five years thanks to an ambitious development plan that targets an average economic growth of 14.9 percent over the period.
The government says over the past five years economic growth has averaged about 11 percent in Ethiopia, a Western ally seen as a bulwark against militant Islamism in that part of Africa.