For many people, the defining images of famine in Africa dates back to the BBC reports of the Ethiopian famine in 1984. However, according to Ephraim Tsegay, Tearfund’s country representative for Ethiopia, the current situation is even more severe. But there is still hope...
The scale of the current drought affecting Ethiopia is so much bigger than anything we've seen before. There is a real sense of urgency that the 5.6 million people across the country are helped with emergency food assistance. The need is immense. They will require food and healthcare for the next six to nine months at least.
It's very sad and makes me feel desperate because it follows the terrible deprivation of last year from which 9.6m people have not yet fully recovered. Thankfully, compared to emergencies of 30 or 40 years ago, the government is better co-ordinated this time. But in the past drought was confined to two areas in the north. This time round it's in the east, west, north, south and centre – in fact, it's all over. And the outlook is not promising: forecasts for below-average rains in some regions between March and May 2017 suggest further deterioration in food security is possible later in 2017.
I have spoken with people who used to eat three times a day, who are now having only one meal a day. Parents are not eating in order to feed their children.
Driven back to square one
It is affecting people in different ways. Many people have lost their animals because of the lack of animal feed. They are hungry, suffering from malnutrition, diarrhoea and other diseases without access to clean drinking water. I've been shocked to hear of people who have lost all their assets or savings. ‘I saved up to send my child to university,’ a woman told me, ‘but I've had to use all my money to buy flour.’ People have to sacrifice education at the moment for even more important priorities. Shared ownership groups, who might have worked many years to build up a viable business, have had their solidarity disrupted and been driven back to square one when individuals have withdrawn their share of the business.
I have spoken with people who used to eat three times a day before the current drought who are now having only one meal a day. This is often just bread or a handful of roasted barley and tea. Parents are not eating in order to feed their children. Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, and there is a credible risk that southeast Ethiopia will reach crisis stage this year. As of March, there were at least 370,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. An estimated 40 per cent of IDPs were displaced due to conflict and 54 per cent due to drought. There are also 783,000 refugees in Ethiopia.
The government is doing its best with the help of partners and other development organisations. It has called on the likes of Tearfund to respond by providing cereal rations of maize and wheat, cooking oil and fortified blended foods such as Famix. We need to show our love and respect to the people of Ethiopia and do what we can to help them in their suffering. The local churches have been praying for the affected people and trying to mobilise local resources to help people in the wider community. But it's often beyond their capacity. Many churches are affected by the drought, too, and have meagre resources. The congregation, for example, might only be able to provide a bag of flour. It's a small expression of their love but doesn't go very far.
We need to show our love and respect to the people of Ethiopia.
I have teamed up with six friends at church and as well as praying we are each contributing to a fund and helping our church to mobilise second-hand clothes. We are praying for two things: that the Lord touches the heart of all the nations and shows how together they can help these desperate people; and that we live by example, and share and give what He has freely given to us.
The Ethiopian government estimates that it needs £758m to co-ordinate an effective emergency response. It may cost you £20 to have a good lunch and coffee in the UK. If you miss that meal you could be supporting a household in Ethiopia for three months. Let's be part of history. This crisis presents an opportunity to demonstrate love and transform people's lives in Ethiopia.
- For the seasonal rains to be better than anticipated throughout the country.
- Pray that Tearfund and all other agencies can reach as many of the millions at serious risk of malnutrition and starvation as possible.
- For farmers who are in danger of losing livelihoods they have taken many years to build up.
Ephraim Tsegay is Tearfund country representative for Ethiopia.
Give to Tearfund’s East Africa Crisis Appeal to help deliver life-saving assistance across the region: