12 July 2016

Ethiopia: 'The Green Hunger'

Ethiopia is experiencing severe food shortages and malnutrition following months of sparse rainfall. In the Eastern Hararghe region, the drought has been particularly severe. While the region looks green, insufficient rain and seed shortages have led to widespread crop failure. Ethiopians in the region call it the “Green Hunger.”

SOS Children's Villages is in the process of putting together an emergency response team to provide nutritional and health assistance in the short team, and disaster preparedness and protection projects in the months ahead. The aim is to reach more than 18,000 children and other vulnerable people in Eastern Hararghe.

(Photos and essay by Rory Sheldon)

Young farmer in Gursum
Not only have erratic rains severely disrupted the crop cycle, but last year’s drought ensured that plants never developed to seed stage. In some cases, farmers have not planted any crops at all owing to the severe lack of seed in the region. This young farmer in Gursum says “this year we will be hungry.”
 
Crop failure in Haraghe
Teferra Eshete, Early Warning Coordinator from the government’s Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Office (DPPO) for East Hararghe, says that “Our region has a population of 3.4 million people. Forty-four percent of these people require food aid and need emergency relief because of the drought and shortages it has created."
 
Marketplace in Gursum
Another major problem faced by people in Hararghe is the significant rise in prices of vegetables and grains at markets throughout the region. “There has been at least a 50 percent rise in prices”, says one woman in Gursum, “and we cannot afford to buy fresh produce.” This exacerbates a problem already created by a lack of food production, forcing even more people to seek emergency aid.
 
Cattle farmer in Boko
“I lost 60 percent of my cattle last year,” says this livestock farmer. Furthermore, his currently underfed livestock fetch lower prices at market because of their lower weight and falling meat prices, while the cost of vegetables and grains has risen.
 
Families await UN food relief in Chinaksen
Perhaps the worst hit area of Ethiopia is Chinaksen, in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region that neighbours Eastern Hararghe, where crops have failed completely this year. Residents of Chinaksen and areas around the village line up outside of a food depot where they are given parcels distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP). Today, the parcels are directed towards pregnant and lactating mothers.
 
Young girl awaits food aid in Chinaksen
A young girl is among those waiting for food from the WFP.
 
Desperate mothers present tickets for UN food aid
When doors open, desperate mothers and community members rush to the front of the queue waving tickets in an attempt to get an aid worker’s attention. To qualify for the super cereals developed by the WFP, mothers need to get their tickets stamped by the government-controlled health office, proving that at least one of their children suffers from malnutrition.
 
Super cereal packages distributed to Chinaksen mothers
The sealed packages contain cereals that have been designed by the WFP for children aged six months to two years, to be used as a complement to breast feeding. The ‘super cereal’ is prepared from soya beans, sugar, and a number of vitamins and minerals.
 
Breast feeding mother awaits medical attention in Fedis District
Women gather outside a remote health centre in the Fedis District of Hararghe. Aklima Ahmed, Health Extension Worker at the centre, says: “We are currently treating women and children. We have 108 pregnant and lactating women whose children face severe malnutrition.”
 
Baby suffers from severe acute malnutrition in Chinaksen
According to the government's DPPO, 80 percent of the population in Chinaksen receive food aid and the number of malnourished children is rising. Children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) are treated and cared for at the health premises. This three-month-old child was brought to the Chinaksen Health Centre by his mother. She was struggling to feed herself, and was able to provide sufficient breast milk. Adenan Ahmed, a nurse working at the Chinaksen Health Centre says, “This month we have treated 113 children in Chinaksen and we urgently need more medicine and supplies. The problem is increasing and we are struggling to keep up.”
 
A farmer laments crop failure in Fedis
A farmer explains that despite the green look of his crops, he currently has no way to provide food for his family. “The drought affected production last year, and our first cycle crops this year were wiped out by a plague of Army worm. We have no food stored, and this current crop may not produce yield until December. This is Green Hunger.”
 
Water collection in Somali region
In other areas, there has still been no rainfall, and families must travel long distances each day to collect water from access point on the outskirts of Jigjiga in Somali region.
 
Child in Bokko
While underfed and undernourished, children remain in high spirits in the Bokko area. Regional officials are urgently seeking aid. They project that by December more than 1.1 million people living in the region will be dependent on food aid.