Ethiopia: millions going hungry in worst drought in a decade


Last week clouds gathered over the lowlands of Ethiopia but, according to HelpAge International Ethiopia Country Director Alison Rusinow, the rains have come too late to bring much relief.

"Drought is almost constant now"

"Drought is nothing new to this part of Africa, but what is different according to many of the older people we have spoken to, is the frequency with which it hits.

"People used to experience drought every ten years or so, but now it's almost constant. Older people may not be using the terminology, but many attribute the changing patterns to climate change. 

"It is imperative to change the focus of development projects towards activities that recognise the increasing frequency of drought and prevent it from causing the kind of hunger that is once again facing the people of Ethiopia. 

"HelpAge is working with older people in drought-affected communities to reduce long-term risks and ensure there is enough food at all times."

"The weather has changed completely"

Adbulla said that the weather has changed a lot in recent years. Jeff Williams/HelpAge International 2009620 km south of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, lies the small town of Dubluk. Local NGO Action for Development, with support from HelpAge, has been running a water and sanitation project here since April 2009.

It was at the recently built cattle troughs and the site of the new generator that we met Abdulla, a 99-year-old mechanic.

When asked about the droughts Abdulla said, "The weather has changed completely. There used to be a lot more rain  but now it is dry. The weather started changing about 30 years ago."

"We can only harvest once a year if we are lucky"

Wako is worried that the droughts will kill his goats. Jeff Williams/HelpAge International 2009Wako, a 96-year-old pastoralist from Borena, agreed that the droughts were intensifying. In years gone by, Wako would cultivate a plot of land to grow maize, sorghum and haricot beans.

"When the rains were good and predictable we could sell what we didn't need and use the money for essential items. Now, however, our yields have decreased and we can only harvest once a year if we are lucky."

After consecutive rainfall failures in 2007 and early parts of 2008, the 2009 Gu (July to September) rains failed in most parts of the south east of the country in the Somali region.

HelpAge International is responding to this situation through two projects funded by the German Foreign Ministry, through HelpAge Deutschland, and the UN Humanitarian Response Fund.

In Borena zone, HelpAge is supporting an emergency programme targeting 15,000 people and 30,000 livestock in drought-affected pastoral communities. This project finishes in December, but HelpAge is now appealing for help to fund plans for more projects here, to ensure that future droughts to not lead to hunger in the area.

In Shinille zone, we are providing lifesaving water and sanitation services to 60,000 vulnerable, drought affected pastoralist older people, their families and communities, so they can better manage drought. We are also providing essential emergency items such as Jeri cans, water containers, and soap for over 18,000 people.

"We all drink from the same pond"

Lencho works hard to look after his cattle, but worries there is not enough rain to survive. Jeff Williams/HelpAge International 2009As 72-year-old Lencho points out:

"There is no difference between us and our animals, so we all drink from the same pond. Even though the water looks muddy, we are happy. Our work is hard but the cattle don't know that I am an old man. We work hard until we die."

In total, these projects will benefit 75,000 people and 230,000 livestock affected by water shortages.

This current drought has pushed as many as 20 million people to the brink of starvation across East Africa, making it the worst in a decade or more.

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