East Africa crisis: "Cash grants are our only means of survival"


Seke Wako Arero, 70, collects her cash transfer Seke Wako Arero, 70, collects her cash transfer in Borana Erna Mentesnot Hintz/HelpAge International 2011 By Navdha Malhotra

HelpAge has been working to help older and vulnerable people affected by the severe drought in East Africa.

We have been working in Borana zone in Ethiopia distributing cash transfers to nearly 5,000 older people so they can buy food.

Around 3.2 million people in southern Ethiopia, particularly in Borana zone and southern Somali region, have been left extremely vulnerable due to poor rains over the last year.

We have been working with various local partners targeting 6,400 households.

So far we have distributed 4,800 cash transfers worth around $18 per month. The cash can be used to buy necessities such as food, oil and water.

Seko is a 70-year-old woman living in Borana zone.

She said: "This is the fourth time I have received a monthly payment. I use this money to buy food mainly for me and my family.

"This is the only means to survival I have at the moment. Other than this, I have no support to count on."

Walking miles for water

Water consumption in Borana zone has reportedly declined to one to two litres per person per day. This shortage has increased the workload for women who often need to walk long distances to reach the nearest borewell or queue for several hours at ration points.

Liben Wario Bule, 88, moved to Borana 16 years ago from Arero district.

He said: "We obtain water from the closest water pump. My wife, Tari, carries a 20 litre jerry can every three days for my family of seven.

"Food is very expensive now. A kg of maize costs USD$ 0.41, it used to be less than half of that.

"We can only afford to ‘taste' rather than eat it. Thanks to the cash transfer I receive, I buy maize that lasts me a month."

The cash transfers are distributed by our partner Action for Development who can also arrange for money to be delivered to people's homes if older people are bedridden or have difficulty travelling.

However because of the market rate of staple foods increasing at an alarming rate, we are also working on providing baskets containing food and cash for older people.

Future plans

We recently visited the Dollo Ado camps in Somali region of Ethiopia.

We conducted a needs assessment on older people to find out exactly what they require.

Once we receive the correct permissions and access rights, we will begin a programme in each of the four camps.

This will involve creating specific spaces and areas where older people feel safe and comfortable, plus establishing a tracing system for older people left behind in Somalia.

In Ethiopia, we will create cash-for-work opportunities for 4,800 vulnerable people in Borana. Through this project, we will rebuild ten water ponds and five traditional wells.

We will also provide livestock feed for 1,600 vulnerable pastoralists' animals and distribute fresh meat to 4,800 vulnerable households.

We are also carrying out a nutrition survey of older people in Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya. This will help us create a health and nutrition programme specifically for older people.

Situation still desperate

HelpAge International chief executive Richard Blewitt, together with the chief executive of Age UK Tom Wright, has just returned from a visit to Borana.

Richard said: "Our visit to Borana highlighted just how vulnerable pastoralists have become. We saw many older people saying they had not experienced a drought like this one in almost 50 years. The households we visited had older people and children living together. They had very little except some grain received from relief agencies.

"I met an 87-year-old man who told me ‘First the children eat, and then the women, then we older people eat last.'

"People there have absolutely nothing, they have lost everything.

"The villagers we met told us over 70% of their livestock have been lost. The short rains in September/October will be critical. If they are poor, the emergency will become extremely severe and will carry on well into next year.

"We are working to ensure older people and the specific issues they face are visible to other agencies and that their needs are met.

"I was encouraged by our work in Ethiopia, but there is more to be done. The refugee crisis in the Somali region of Ethiopia is growing."

Erna Mentesnot Hintz, a programme assistant at HelpAge International in Ethiopia, also attended the Borana visit.

She said: "These projects clearly show they are making a difference at the moment to older people.

"We are reaching many households that are led by older people however there are many more out there that are in dire need of support for their survival."

How you can help

Our work is supported by our sister organisation Age UK.

You can help us too by donating to Age UK's East Africa appeal for vulnerable older Ethiopians and their families affected by the drought. Thank you very much.

Further information

  • Read more on Erna's visit to Ethiopia in her blog from Borana.
  • Our partners in Ethiopia include CAFOD, SCIAF, Trocaire, Action For Development (AFD), Gayo Pastoralist Development Initiative (GPDI), Community Initiative Facilitation and Assistance (CIFA) and SOS Sahel - Ethiopia.
  • Age UK is raising money together with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) for the East Africa Crisis. The DEC is a consortium of 14 aid agencies working together.
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    How you can help

    Our sister organisation Age UK has launched an appeal for the drought crisis in East Africa. HelpAge will receive this money to help older people in the region. If you would like to help, please donate to Age UK's East Africa appeal now. Thank you.

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