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East Africa crisis: “For now, they are just trying to survive”

16 Aug 2011

On 10 August, I accompanied the CEOs of Age UK and HelpAge International to our project site in Dillo district, Borana zone. The purpose of their visit was to observe the effects of the drought which has had a devastating effect on parts of East Africa. And see the work of HelpAge and its local partners in the area.  

An important part of the field visit was to witness cash transfers being executed in the peasant association known as Kenchero, Dillo district. The cash transfer benefits a total of 4,800 pastoralist and agro-pastoralist households out of these 1,200 households in Dillo district. This intervention is to support the beneficiaries in acquiring food items such as oil and milk. The final cash transfer is due end of August 2011. 

The cash transfers are the only means to acquire food

Kurfa Alake Dibo, 90 years, was accompanied by her son to receive her cash transferAbout 100 people were waiting for the cash transfers to begin under a large Acacia tree. These were people who are physically able to make the journey or live nearby. For those who are bed ridden or less able to travel long distances, Action For Development (HelpAge's local partner) arranges to deliver the cash to their homes.

Food insecurity is the main issue for older people in the area. The cash they receive from this project, is for many the only means to acquire food for themselves and their families. We met several older people who had come to collect the cash despite the long distance.

Kurfa Alake Dibo is a 90 year old woman who has been identified as a beneficiary of the cash transfers. She is deaf and needs someone familiar to speak for her and explain what it going on. She was accompanied by her son today. I could not understand her completely but her gestures clearly said "I am hungry".

After queuing for some time, the beneficiaries were given a cash amount of 300 Ethiopian Birr (US$ 17.68) for a month by the AFD field staff. The beneficiary in turn gave their finger prints acknowledging the receiving of cash. The process is overlooked by the community and government.

Four representatives of the Pastoralist Development Office, Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Office, District Administration Office and community committee are present to ensure that the process takes place smoothly and efficiently.

Survival is our only concern 

We also had the opportunity to conduct a focus group discussion with older men and women who had gathered at the cash transfer site. All the older beneficiaries expressed that the drought had caused high livestock mortality and shortage of food and water.

Many had lost most of their livestock and hoped for the ‘hagaya' rains that fall from October to November, to replenish their water supplies and restore their livelihoods. Issues of health are secondary and unaffordable at present. For now, they are just trying to survive.

Millions in dire need of support

The whole time while we were at the site, large rain clouds were hovering over the area. They cleared by the late afternoon. This scene is repeated almost everyday. Everything they need to make their lives better is above them at the wrong time, only tantalizing them. If it rains now, it could trigger floods; and if it doesn't, the drought and hunger will continue

The project is clearly making a difference to the lives of 1,296 older people led households. However, there are many more out there that are in dire need of support for their survival.

HelpAge's work is supported by our sister organisation Age UK. Please donate to Age UK's East Africa appeal for vulnerable older people affected by the devastating drought in Ethiopia.

Age UK is raising money together with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) for the East Africa Crisis Appeal. The DEC is a consortium of 14 aid agencies working together in times of disasters and emergencies.

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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.