28 September 2016

SOS Children’s Villages moves to help drought-hit Ethiopia and Malawi

Emergency programmes to deliver nutritional and other care for vulnerable children and families

Children collect water near Fedis, one of the districts where SOS Children's Villages will help drought-affected families. Photographer: Azemeraw Bekele

SOS Children’s Villages is working to help vulnerable families in Ethiopia and Malawi with nutritional and other emergency assistance in response to one the worst droughts to hit eastern and southern Africa in decades.

In Ethiopia, nearly 10 million people are in need of food assistance, while more than 400,000 severely malnourished children are being treated, according to the latest government and humanitarian aid report.
 
Malawi’s government declared a state of disaster in May and today estimates 6.5 million people, in a country of 16.8 million, face food insecurity.

Responding in Ethiopia

SOS Children’s Villages Ethiopia is preparing to provide assistance to vulnerable children and families in three severely affected communities where at least 278,000 people are said to be in urgent need of nutritional and other care.
 
The focus of the SOS emergency response in Ethiopia is on the districts of Chinaksen, Fedis and Gursum in Hararghe, an eastern province in the Oromia region. These are near the SOS families and programmes in the eastern city of Harar, capital of Hararghe.
 
The worst affected people are mostly farmers, says Azemeraw Bekele, national emergency response coordinator for SOS Children’s Villages in Ethiopia. “As a result of the drought, livestock productivity is diminished and crop production is also not promising, and the next harvest will not be until December. Food assistance is still critically needed”, he said.
 
A potent El Niño weather pattern disrupted seasonal rains in parts of Ethiopia last year and in some regions again this year. In the districts where SOS Children’s Villages will provide help, the next harvests are not due until December.

Women queue for food assistance in Chinaksen, in the Eastern Hararghe region of Ethiopia. Photo by Rory Sheldon / June 2016

Malnourishment on the rise

Ethiopia’s government reported in April 400,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 1.7 million moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) cases among children, Mr Azemeraw explained. By August, there were still 400,000 SAM cases but the number of MAM cases rose to 2.3 million. “Malnourishment is growing even while there is intervention going on”, he said.
The emergency has ripple effects for children beyond the need for sufficient nutrition and water.
 
“The new school year has just begun, yet most farm and pastoral families are not in a position to cover the costs of schooling for their children”, Mr Azemeraw said. “It is important to support them by providing school meals and scholastic materials so that these children can attend school.”

Helping in the hard-to-reach communities

Access to communities and remote villages is also a major challenge. “Rural dirt and gravel roads reach most, but not all villages”, said Dennis Hamilton, a US-based international disaster management consultant, who has helped train staff at SOS Children’s Villages Ethiopia.
 
“Beyond the villages, individual households are often accessible only on foot. Increasing access to food does not mean that the people who need it get it”, Mr Hamilton said. “Part of the plan we just completed attempts to address food supply and food security issues. For SOS Children’s Villages, the priority is reaching the neediest children and their families.”
 
The emergency response includes:
 
  • Nutritional assistance for vulnerable children and women
  • Medical care for malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women
  • Water and sanitation services to vulnerable children, lactating mothers and pregnant women
  • Technical support, preparedness and training to improve living conditions for vulnerable families
  • Assistance for separated, lost or unaccompanied children

Situation in Malawi ‘unbearable’ for some families

In Malawi, the need for help is expected to grow more critical in the weeks ahead.
 
“At least 60% of families we help through livelihood, nutrition and other support programmes have already run out of food”, said Smart Namagonya, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages in Malawi. “The situation will likely be at a critical stage by November, when at least 90% of these families may be without food because of commodity shortages.”
 
More than 80% of the families that SOS Malawi is helping joined family strengthening programmes before another disaster, the severe flooding of 2014 and 2015. “The situation is now unbearable for these vulnerable families because of a harsh economic environment characterised by high inflation”, Mr Namagonya explained.High prices reduce the purchasing power of families who already struggle with meagre income earned through piecework.”
 

Malawi is one of the southern African countries hardest hit by a drought that has disrupted food production and affected water supplies. The government declared a state of disaster in May. Photo by Bjørn-Owe Holmberg


The emergency response programme in Malawi is expected to extend through March 2017. Priorities include:
 

  • Distribution of food staples such as maize, soya and dried fish

  • Providing soya-corn blend meal and other fortified nutritional supplements to children under five, people living with HIV and chronic illness, and other vulnerable groups

  • Initiatives to protect children, women and people living with HIV and disabilities from abuse, labour exploitation, gender violence and discrimination

  • Providing two daily meals to more than 9,700 children and at least 3,400 parents or other caregivers.

Three communities where SOS Malawi has programmes – Blantyre, Lilongwe  and Ngabu – are in the central and southern regions that are the worst affected by drought. The fourth is the northern city of Mzuzu.
 
SOS Children’s Villages has worked in Malawi for more than 20 years and today provides homes for vulnerable children as well as kindergartens, four Hermann Gmeiner schools, medical and psychological care, youth centres and emergency assistance.
 
SOS Children's Villages started its activities in Ethiopia against the background of a disastrous drought that had hit the country in 1974. Today it operates in Jimma, Addis Ababa, Harar, Hawassa, Gode, Bahir Dar and Makalle.
 
The country of more than 90 million people is prone to crop and livestock disasters. Ethiopia experienced a severe famine from 1983 to 1985 that killed upwards of 1 million people. A Horn of Africa drought in 2011-2012 affected 4.6 million people in Ethiopia, 4 million in Somalia, 3.8 million in Kenya and 180,000 in Djibouti, according to UN relief agencies.
 
Globally, a new United Nationals report estimates that 60 million people are affected by extremes related to El Niño, an ocean-warming pattern that can disrupt seasonal rainfall in some areas while triggering excessive rains in other regions.


Azemeraw Bekele (middle, standing) is the national emergency response coordinator for SOS Children’s Villages in Ethiopia. Dennis Hamilton (fifth from right) is a US-based international disaster management consultant and trainer who helped to build staff capacity at SOS Children’s Villages Ethiopia. Photo: SOS Children's Villages Ethiopia