By Paul Schemm
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — After going through its worst drought in 50 years, Ethiopia is again seeing rain falling. In fact, in some places, it’s falling too hard and has set off floods.
So while the number of people requiring food aid has dropped slightly from 10.2 million in January to 9.7 million, according to the latest figures, there is a new threat of disease in a population weakened by drought.
Measles, meningitis, malaria and scabies are on the rise. And most seriously, there has been an outbreak of something mysteriously called “AWD,” according to the Humanitarian Requirements Document, issued by the government and humanitarian agencies on Aug. 13.
“There is a high risk that AWD can spread to all regions with high speed as there is a frequent population movement between Addis Ababa and other regions,” it warned.
The letters stand for acute watery diarrhea. It is a potentially fatal condition caused by water infected with the vibrio cholera bacterium. Everywhere else in the world it is simply called cholera.
But not in Ethiopia, where international humanitarian organizations privately admit that they are only allowed to call it AWD and are not permitted to publish the number of people affected.
The government is apparently concerned about the international impact if news of a significant cholera outbreak were to get out, even though the disease is not unusual in East Africa.
This means that, hypothetically, when refugees from South Sudan with cholera flee across the border into Ethiopia, they suddenly have AWD instead.
In a similar manner, exactly one year ago, when aid organizations started sounding the alarm bells over the failed rains, government officials were divided over whether they would call it a drought and appeal for international aid.