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By Aaron Maasho
WARDER, Ethiopia (Reuters) - Ethiopia will run out of emergency food aid for 7.8 million people hit by severe drought by the end of this month, the government and humanitarian groups said.
Successive failed rains blamed by meteorologists on fluctuations in ocean temperatures known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) have created a series of severe back-to-back droughts in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region.
In Ethiopia, the number of people now critically short of food is expected to rise by at least two million by next month, according to figures compiled by the government and its humanitarian partners.
Donors, international aid groups and the government say existing food aid for the current 7.8 million will run out as funds are critically short this year with Ethiopia receiving slightly more than half of the $930 million to meet requirements until July.
"We are in a dire situation," John Aylieff, the World Food Programme's representative in Ethiopia, said on Friday during a field trip to Warder in southeast Ethiopia, one of Ethiopia's hardest-hit areas.
"We've got food running out nationally at the end of June. That means the 7.8 million people who are in need of humanitarian food assistance in Ethiopia will see that distribution cut abruptly at the end of June," he added.
Humanitarian groups fear donor fatigue is weighing on efforts to meet requirements.
Famine in northeast Nigeria, together with South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia, constitute the worst humanitarian crisis the world has faced since 1945, the U.N. said in March.
"There is donor fatigue because there are a lot of crises," said Ahmed Al Meraikhi, the U.N. Secretary-General's humanitarian envoy.
Addis Ababa allocated $272 million extra in 2015 and a further $109 million last year from its own coffers to deal with the drought.
However the government said it faced difficulties in sustaining similar targets this year.
"Last year, we spent a lot of money to confront this type of drought. It is very challenging," said Mitiku Kassa, head of Ethiopia's National Disaster Risk Management Commission.
Across the Horn of Africa, close to 17 million people need humanitarian aid due to drought, including 2.6 million in Kenya and 3.2 million in Somalia, according to the U.N.
In the treeless plains littered with makeshift plastic homes in Ethiopia's Warder, bordering Somalia, displaced and destitute pastoralists said their entire herds had been decimated.
"We have had droughts before, but this time we have drought, diarrhoea and disease," said Ardo Yusuf, a 49-year old mother who said her entire livestock had succumbed to illness.
(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Andrew Bolton)