You are here

Aid workers braced for escalating crisis

Ross O'Sullivan is these days in Ethiopia where he is part of Concern Worldwide's emergency support unit.

Ross has witnessed hundreds of mothers bringing severely malnourished children for vital life-saving food supplies in the southern Wolayita region of the country.

The food crisis hitting Ethiopia's poor has escalated for aid workers on the ground. Emergency staff have been called in to assess the extent of the massive food shortage across the Horn of Africa and support and advise teams already in place.

Ross said that although more structures and government support is in place compared with previous times, an estimated 10 million people could go hungry this year. "We are being told that people are dying, have nothing to sow, nothing to plant, nothing to harvest," he said.

"With the lack of rains over the last seven to eight months, people have no crops and animals have died. Their assets, including cattle and goats, have died or their value has dropped and they can't sell them. The value of animals has halved while the cost of available food has doubled."

At any time, five million people in Ethiopia are “food insecure” or chronically at risk of being hungry. Mechanisms have been put in place over the last five years to bring these people into a safety net, but the current drought has brought a longer hungry season for double that figure.

"There has been no rain for eight months, and although some rains have started now it is not enough," continued Ross. "People should have been harvesting in April and May, but this year they didn't. They were due to prepare the land now and plant in July for September growth, but they are not.

"There is a very high population concentration and people are trying to get a living from a very small area of land. Farmers have very small parcels of land of about a half to a third of a hectare and some smaller. They are cultivating plots that, in a normal situation, would be very difficult to produce enough food for a family. The land is exhausted with crops planted each season, not giving it time to recover."

O'Sullivan said ongoing programmes in the region to tackle child malnourishment have been scaled up, while non-governmental organisations' long-term plans with farming, irrigation, sanitation, and construction continue to roll out.

"These people cope in a different way in response to different events," he added. "They have positive and negative times and build up their asset base in the good times. But this is a bad time for them and is the result of climate change.

"We need to look at diversity over time and at possibility of using drought resistant crops. There is also a need to recognise what causes this vulnerability and how to stop it."

This article was written by Sarah Stack of the Press Association.