Catholic agencies are responding to a growing hunger crisis in East Africa that is threatening the lives of millions
It’s a crisis yet to make major headlines, but Ethiopia’s worst drought in 50 years is threatening the lives of millions of people and growing worse by the day.
The UN says 8.2 million people are in urgent need of food aid there, and almost a million have left their homes and villages in search of food. Government estimates are higher than that, and deputy secretary general of the Ethiopian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Fr. Haile Gabriel Meleku, fears the number could be much higher than government estimates. The Scottish Catholic Observer reports just in the last two months there has been a two million increase in the number of people suffering as a result of the drought.
Fr. Meleku says, “The catastrophe can be felt everywhere,” and conflict may develop as desperate people “struggle for dwindling resources.” Meleku described an increasing mass movement of people trying to find food and water, children missing school and the death of livestock. The famine is preventing parishioners from getting to church, which for some can be a journey of up to four hours, and catechists who make a living as farmers are suffering.
Al Jazeera America spoke to a nurse who works at a center run by the Catholic Daughters of Saint Anne in northern Ethiopia. She says there is little they can do to help mothers who seek help because they cannot produce enough milk to feed their babies.
So far, the Ethiopian government, has managed to prevent the severity of a famine the likes of 1984, when more than a million Ethiopians died. But despite employing a food security network program developed since then, as well as using national food reserves and early warning systems, Ethiopia needs outside help.
“Information got to the world’s media late,” says Sebhatu Seyoum, social and development coordinator for the Adigrat Diocesan Catholic Secretariat (ADCS).
International Catholic charity’s Aid to the Church in Need (ACNUSA) Ethiopian bishops released a statement just before Christmas blaming “climate change and environmental degradation” for the current crisis.
The prelates cited Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato SiI, as laying out the scenario being played out in Ethiopia: “Many of the poor live in areas … affected by warming and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture. … They have no other financial activities or resoures that can enable them to adapt to climate change or face natural disasters.”
ACNUSA also reports that it just dispatched $500,000 in emergency support to Ethiopia to help relieve hunger in famine-stricken dioceses, many of which are located inTigray in the northern region of the country.
“We are a pastoral aid agency, but we are prepared to respond to all of the needs of the Christian community and other vulnerable citizens — just as we are doing in conflict-plagued Iraq and Syria,” said ACNUSA Executive Director Sarkis Boghjalian, adding: “Especially in this Year of Mercy, the faithful in the West must stand with the poor all around the world.”
To support agencies working to relieve hunger in Ethiopia, please visit
Zoe Romanowsky is lifestyle editor and video content producer for Aleteia.