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Crisis in Ethiopia: Drought persists, and nutrition suffers


John Burger - published on 09/27/16 - updated on 06/08/17

Rain failures lead to crop failures, dead livestock

The colored corn and pumpkins decorating the front entrances of homes in North America, the weekend apple-picking ventures, the waning days of the farmer’s market in town all hark back to a time when America was a thoroughly agrarian society. So while “harvest time” may be more of a slogan than anything else anymore, in other parts of the world, the phrase can inspire a real sense of hope — or great disappointment.

Ethiopia is one such part of the world where there is ongoing disappointment, and hope has been severely tested. The country, in the Horn of Africa, has experienced very bad drought since February 2015. There was no harvest at the end of last year, and it’s doubtful there will be much of one this year.

Spring brought rain, and some relief, but in some places too much rain led to severe flooding, which displaced 190,000 people.

“The majority of Ethiopian farmers are dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Rain failure is a disaster for farmers,” said Argaw Fantu, regional director in Ethiopia for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. “Some areas are also naturally disadvantaged areas as the rainfall is so erratic, [and because of the] rocky and mountainous nature of the area.”

Though the situation is not as extreme as it was in the 1980s, when some 400,000 Ethiopians starved to death, more than 10 million people are threatened with malnutrition.

The United Nations estimates that 15 million people are in urgent need of food aid due to drought, and that 33% of this population is already suffering the effects of severe malnutrition due to agriculture failure and death of livestock, Fides reported. It is estimated that, between October 2015 and April 2016 about 450,000 animals died, severely affecting the supply of milk, especially for children.

Fantu described the situation of a family he visited in August in northern Ethiopia. Bisrat Tsaadu and her husband have eight children, though the oldest daughter got married and left the household.

Bisrat, he said, is about 45 and is a housewife. Her husband earns infrequent income from a cash-for-work program in the area. “They rear some animals, but all died due to the shortage of animal feed. The youngest child, 4 years old, is in an emergency feeding program.

Fantu said that Bisrat was ashamed that she could not offer the visitors a cup of coffee, following local custom. But as they left her home, she went inside and came out with 10 eggs “and offered [them to] us to take and cook at home,” he said.

Sister Meaza Gibray, a Daughter of Charity who accompanied Fantu on the visit, commented, “The less they have, the more generous they are.”

Since 2013, before a drought was declared, and rainfall was beginning to be spotty, CNEWA has helped thousands of students in Ethiopian Catholic schools in feeding programs. “With this support the number of children failing in classrooms due to hunger and dropout cases have significantly reduced,” Fantu said.

The CNEWA aid supports feeding programs for the most vulnerable: nursing mothers, the elderly, pregnant women and children.

More to read: How a farmer named Fatima became an inspiration.

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