By Evan Schuurman, from Save the Children
I have never seen dust so thick. It cakes itself onto my boots and embeds itself within every fibre of my clothes. I can taste it in the air.
- Ethiopia suffering worst drought in 50 years
- 10 million people need food and aid
- The drought is considered a humanitarian crisis alongside the Syrian war
- 2.5 million children expected to drop out of school due to drought
This is eastern Ethiopia in the midst of the nation’s worst drought in 50 years.
So far more than 10 million people are in need of food aid, while 400,000 children are expected to suffer severe malnutrition this year.
Everywhere people are desperate and in need of help. Some communities have not seen rain in more than two years.
This week I travelled out to the Somali region of Ethiopia, where hundreds of thousands of livestock have perished from the lack of food and water.
These pastoral lands were once green and lush, but now they kick up plumes of dust with the slightest breeze.
Most of the dead carcasses were cleared away as part of a cash-for-work program initiated by Save the Children, though occasionally the skeleton of a cow or donkey crops up along the roadside as we drive further into the desert.
We are travelling out to an area called Afdem, where I eventually meet Abdi, a father of nine who once had a herd of 48 animals. Now just four remain.
“I worry a lot and don’t know what I will do in the future,” he tells me.
“You can see from my children’s faces the lack of milk and fresh meat. You can see the decline in their weight.
“Before the drought, my children played with other children and had lots of energy. They used to be joyful, but not anymore.”
None of Abdi’s children go to school any longer because they cannot concentrate because of the lack of food.
They are among 2.5 million Ethiopian children who are expected to drop out of the education system due to the drought.
Drought appeal only a third funded
Getting these children back to class, as well as restoring lost livelihoods and strengthening health systems, are all critical components of the long-term humanitarian response.
But right now the greatest needs are food, water, fodder for livestock and seeds for farmers to plant.
Now is a critical time, with the belg, the short rainy season, due to hit Ethiopia.
After three failed rainy seasons in a row, in many parts of the country, nobody I meet is willing to predict what the future holds.
One thing is for certain, if the belg rains fail again, the number of people in need of help will increase significantly.
More children will fall into severe malnutrition, more animals will perish and more people will become reliant on food aid.
Yet, at the same time, the global $US1.4 billion drought appeal is only about a third funded.
The international community is still to come to the fore for Ethiopia, but they must.
So far the Ethiopian Government has led the humanitarian response and shouldered much of the funding burden to date, committing over $US300 million of its own funds.
The scale of this emergency is like nothing I have seen before, such that Save the Children currently classifies just two humanitarian crises at its highest level — the war in Syria, and the drought in Ethiopia.
“I have never witnessed this kind of drought in my life,” Abdi said standing with an arm affectionately draped around his six-year-old son’s shoulders.
“Even the elders in our community say they have never seen anything this bad. We are facing an almighty crisis and we need help. Please help us.”
Evan Schuurman, from Melbourne, is part of Save the Children’s humanitarian response team in Ethiopia, which is providing life-saving support to more than 2 million people affected by the drought.
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