Help for the hungry in Ethiopia
By Debbie DeVoe and Caritas Staff
Family members must feed their malnourished children therapeutic milk every three hours until wasting bodies return to health.
The jutting ribs of cattle along the roadside hint at what lies ahead. After two consecutive seasons of poor rains, pockets of farmland in southern and eastern Ethiopia have produced no crops. Many people in these areas now have nothing—literally nothing—to eat. And with food prices soaring worldwide, they can’t afford to buy the dwindling and increasingly expensive supplies in the market.
This spring, thousands of families in drought-affected regions have begun arriving at the doorsteps of health centres and churches seeking assistance. Mothers carrying their near-lifeless children beg for food as their older children whimper at their sides.
In partnership with aid agencies, the Ethiopian government is responding by distributing emergency food rations and setting up feeding sites for malnourished children. But more help is urgently needed.
Caritas Internationalis has launched a US$1.3 million emergency appeal to feed mothers and children in Ethiopia after critical food shortages have led to a sharp rise in malnutrition levels.
Caritas aims to provide 22,000 children with supplementary food and up to 4,500 pregnant women and new mothers with extra rations over the next five months.
Catholic Relief Services is a Caritas member in the US.
“Catholic Relief Services is helping our local diocesan partners to feed people severely impacted by this year’s drought. Loaned trucks and drivers are also enabling partner staff to visit remote villages and bring in the most malnourished children for immediate treatment,” explains Shane Lennon, CRS’ head of programming in Ethiopia.
“With every passing day, though, the number of people arriving at emergency feeding sites continues to grow. We are seeking additional funding to provide substantially more food in response to this crisis.”
At a local Catholic church in the Oromia region, hundreds of children are receiving therapeutic milk and treatment. In tents hastily pitched on church grounds, family members cradle sick children who lay unmoving in their embrace.
One mother pulls up the shirt of her young daughter to show matchstick-thin arms hanging limply by a bloated stomach. Another grandfather lovingly supports the back of his grandson’s head as he feeds the child sips of milk from a plastic syringe. The boy, who looks about 5, simply doesn’t have the energy to take in food any other way.
Through feedings every three hours, these children are incrementally regaining their health. Severely malnourished children are looked after by medical staff in a critical care tent. Meanwhile, in another tent, moderately malnourished children receive a special milk formula. After a few days, they move to the next tent where family members feed them a more substantial milk treatment, followed by a therapeutic peanut spread.
Once children return to stable health, they are able to go home, taking along a week’s worth of food. They then visit the feeding site each week for weighing and measuring to ensure continued good health, receiving additional food supplies as needed.
Ironically, many of the pockets most affected by drought this year are located within some of Ethiopia’s most productive agricultural regions. These poor, rural farm families are made up of hard-working people who are usually able to grow enough food to meet their needs. Fighting to overcome considerable obstacles each season, sometimes they lose the battle.
In other, less-productive areas, the Ethiopian government has made considerable progress increasing agricultural capacity and assisting those most at risk of not having sufficient food resources. This year, however, Ethiopia is shouldering the heavy burdens of failed rains and rising food and fuel prices. The government has acknowledged the crisis, stating that 4.6 million Ethiopians are at risk, and has made an appeal for humanitarian assistance.
Debbie DeVoe is Catholic Relief Services’ regional information officer for East Africa based in Nairobi, Kenya. She recently visited emergency feeding sites in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.
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