East Africa faces famine
23 July 2012
In 2011 in Ethiopia, Kenya and the rest of the Horn of Africa, hundreds of thousands of people were on the verge of starvation created by the worst drought in half a century. In Somalia, drought and conflict combined to create a famine in parts of the country.
Food distribution in East Hararghe, Ethiopia
“I saw women collapse by the side of the road,” said Godfrey Godana, who works on Caritas’ hunger relief projects in the Marsabit diocese of northern Kenya. “ The women work hard and when they don’t have food, they collapse.”
Crops turned to dust and dead goats lay in what once was pastureland. Even in the months before the hunger peaked, the signs of what was in store were everywhere. “A baboon came into to our kitchen and tried to get food from the pots,” said a 7-year-old girl called Europa. “My older sister threw stones at it.”
Eventually the animals began succumbing. “ We’d see water buffalo and big elephants who had died from the drought,” said Emmanuel, who lives in a village in the Marsabit area. “ There were so many bones.”
“ We forgot there was such a thing as rain,” said Faustine, a parish volunteer in a Kenyan village.
Families spent their small savings, ate their seeds, tried to sell their dying livestock and journeyed for days to find water. But in the end nothing stood between them and hunger.
“ The elderly and the widows without children – some of them died of hunger,” said Zeinabu, a widow with seven young children.
Caritas Australia trained villagers in alternative livelihoods like poultry raising, so that they were less dependent on pastureland. Trócaire and CRS (Caritas members from Ireland and the USA) paid impoverished villagers to improve water sources, protecting ever y drop they could.
Caritas groups aided Somalis fleeing violence and drought in their homeland, providing water at refugee camps. Caritas Kenya and the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat (Caritas Ethiopia) distributed thousands of bags of food and supported clinics for malnourished children.
Near Europa’s village alone, the local Catholic diocese trucked in millions of litres of drinking water as part of a Caritas Switzerland programme. With help from donors to Cafod (Caritas England and Wales), villagers built dams and mothers received a nutritious food supplement for their children.
Caritas’ past work in the region helped prevent even worse calamity. Near Zeinabu’s village, a borehole that Cordaid (Caritas Netherlands) created in 2004 provided water to 3000 people. In Ethiopia, a deep well that CRS drilled in 2007 helped families and their flocks survive. Before the drought, 9000 people were using the well; during the drought, that rose to 50000 people. Established clinics helped Caritas weigh and treat children suffering from malnutrition. “ The mothers, they feel you have rescued their children,” said Peter Sangal, a local nurse.
The situation in parts of East Africa is still critical. Though rains fell in some areas in autumn 2011, water is still in short supply in many regions, especially in southern Ethiopia. Caritas continues working with communities, giving drought-resistant seeds to farmers and restocking herds for families who lost their only source of income, their animals.
Meanwhile, Caritas reached over a million people in East Africa with lifesaving help. Remembering the trucked-in drinking water in Marsabit, Emmanuel said, “If not for Caritas, we would have died.” Zeinabu echoes this. “I can’t express how grateful I am,” she said. “Please take our gratitude back to the people who gave.”