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Drought-stricken Ethiopia needs an inclusive emergency response

26 May 2016

Older woman from the drought-afflicted Ziway Dugda district in Ethiopia (c) Erna Mentesnot Hintz/HelpAge International

Beginning last year, Ethiopia has been facing alarming food insecurity instigated by the impact of El Niño. Across the country, drought has impacted the lives of countless communities, leaving them in dire need of immediate emergency relief.

An estimated 10.5 million Ethiopians of all ages are struggling to bring in an income. They face health problems, have difficulty accessing water supplies and are not getting enough food to eat.

Ethiopia's Government is striving to mobilise support for its distressed population. In light of the severity of the situation, HelpAge International is joining the push and working hard towards addressing the needs of the most overlooked segment of the population - the older women and men of Ethiopia and their families.

Recent assessments undertaken by HelpAge revealed that older people need more attention than ever before. With entire communities affected, the traditional safety nets of mutual support have become unreliable. Moreover, the high emotional impact of the drought on older women and men stretches far beyond the adverse effects of food insecurity, leaving them with tormenting feelings of loneliness, nervousness and worthlessness.

Addressing older Ethiopians' needs in the drought

To address the needs of older people, HelpAge has secured funding from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). It will help us reach over 17,000 vulnerable households across 16 communities in four districts of the Oromia region.

Partnering with the Rift Valley Women and Children Development Organization and Sewasewe Genet Charity and Development Organization, over 87,000 people of all ages will receive support through tailored and context specific interventions:

  • Livelihoods: HelpAge will provide goats, sheep, farming tools and seeds, coupled with relevant training to help older people secure a reliable income.
  • Health: HelpAge will link supply vulnerable and malnourished older people and children with specially packed food rations to boost nutrition and overall health.
  • Water: To regain their access to safe and clean water, HelpAge will get dysfunctional water sources working again, and promote purification and hygiene practices.

After less than a month, the lives of older women and men have already improved. One older man who has received goats to support his livelihood emphasised how HelpAge has revived older people's hope and longing to actively live again.

"Before, the days were long, and I had nothing to do. I felt like a burden to my family as we endured the tormenting drought. With my goats, I feel needed and like a contributor to my household in my old age. This makes me happy and confident," he said.

Efforts to scale up age-friendly interventions across Ethiopia

Building on the work to reach the disregarded 60+ generation, HelpAge's Ethiopia office hosted Kate Bunting, Chief Executive at HelpAge USA, Tony Hopkins, Interim Director of Fundraising at HelpAge International, and Chris Roles, Managing Director at Age International. They travelled to the Rift Valley to learn firsthand of the dire situation drought-affected communities face, speaking with older men and women about the impact it is having.

Galgalo and his family are struggling through the drought (c) Erna Mentesnot Hintz/HelpAge International

"Droughts aren't uncommon here. When they did happen, they never lasted longer than a year, and we always managed to recover," said Galgalo Aweti, 90, from Cheffe Jilla village in the Ziway Dugda district.

"This drought has been going on continuously. Recovery seems impossible."

More funds need to be mobilised to help benefit thousands more people like Galgalo in other severely hit parts of the country. In particular, there is a great need for timely provision of seeds - farmers are in the midst of preparing their land to grow crops and their harvest would be boosted by a better provision of maize, haricot bean and barley seeds.

All humanitarian agencies must take account of the needs of older people

HelpAge is striving to respond to this humanitarian emergency in Ethiopia, taking action to help save the lives of many older people.

We call on the concerted efforts of all humanitarian agencies to make sure their interventions amid the drought are inclusive of older people's needs - a vulnerable group that must not be neglected.

You can help older men like Galago. Please give now and support our work responding to the drought in Ethiopia. If you live in the UK, you can donate via Age International.

Humanitarian agencies can also sign our Inclusion Charter to commit to impartial emergency responses that reach the most vulnerable.

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Author profile

Erna Mentesnot Hintz
Country: Ethiopia
Job title: Communications Officer

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.