Spectre of death once again casts shadow over Ethiopia

June 30th, 2008 | by addis portal |

By Sarah Stack in Addis Ababa

Monday June 30 2008

TENS of thousands of Ethiopians are again on the brink of starving to death as a result of a massive food shortage.

Almost 25 years after famine killed nearly one million people, lives are again at risk in the east African country.

Some 3,200 children and women have been admitted to food treatment programmes in just one southern region in recent weeks as the effects of an eight-month drought take hold of rural communities.

A further 32 children in a critical condition from starvation, malaria and other illnesses were sent to stabilisation clinics where eight remain. Three have since died.

Soaring global food prices have compounded the crisis.

Abraham Asha, of Irish aid agency Concern, said the figures were “frightening”.

“In three years from 2005 to 2007, we had 1,716 severely malnourished children in our outpatient therapeutic programme. In the last 10 weeks we have had 1,160, with 661 of those admitted in June.

“In the same three weeks, 2,571 beneficiaries received food from the supplementary feeding programme for moderate malnourishment.”

Up to 50 children are turning up for this help every day and over the next three months numbers are certain to rise.


“The old and young could die if this drought continues,” he said.

The seven-hour drive from the buzzing capital of Addis Ababa to the heart of rural Ethiopia is deceptive.

The countryside is green, trees are in full bloom, soil is deep burgundy, and in some areas water still runs through river beds. The temperatures are cool and dark clouds hang overhead but they pass without a drop of rain.

In town centres, women and men gather at the markets, while younger men play volleyball, table football and table tennis.

Some women, with their tiny children slung across their backs, hold out their hands, pleading for food or money.

But behind the picturesque landscape the “green hunger”, as it is called, has ripped through the countryside and its people are starving to death.

The results of a long drought are evident. Crops have failed, livestock have died and people are hungry.

In 2003, some 14.3 million people were affected by a similar crisis.

Humanitarian workers said since then life for Ethiopians has been good, but their situation is deteriorating rapidly and this year and next may be worse.

Aid agencies on the ground are struggling to meet demand as more desperate people arrive at health clinics.

The government is distributing maize to the worst-affected, but even those rations have been reduced as more hungry families arrive.

Concern, Ireland‘s largest non-governmental organisation, is reaching people across the southern SNNP region — the most densely populated part of Ethiopia, which houses 15 million of its 77 million people.

It has launched an emergency appeal to raise at least €2m to bring food and vital supplies to those worst effected.

Mr Asha, programme manager in the Wolayita district, is in charge of the agency’s biggest projects in three Woredas (areas) — Damot Woyde, Duguna Fango and Offa — which have a combined population of more than 350,000.

Its lifesaving nutrition programme targets the region’s most hungry. But funding can cover supplies only for the most vulnerable — the under-fives, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.


Mr Asha said volunteers innitially screen the children who, if malnourished, are sent to local health centres.

Moderately malnourished children will be admitted to a supplementary feeding programme and the most severely affected treated as out-patients with a high-protein food called plumpy nut.

“If a child is too weak for plumpy nut, they are hospitalised,” he said.

“The child will often be suffering from an illness, including diarrhoea, malaria and will have to be drip fed.

“If these children were not put on a programme within three to four days, they would die.”

– Sarah Stack in Addis Ababa

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