How famine-stricken Ethiopia was transformed by the Irish taxpayer

News 08112014Pictured is President Michael D Higgins's wife Sabina  visting a patient  at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, a hospital which provides care for women obstetric fistulas ‐ the most devastating of all childbirth injuries, in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on the seventh day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is President Michael D Higgins’s wife Sabina visting a patient at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, a hospital which provides care for women obstetric fistulas ‐ the most devastating of all childbirth injuries, in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on the seventh day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is President Michael D Higgins’s wife Sabina visting a patient with Dr Catherine Hamlin Co founder, with her late husdand Reg, of the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, a hospital which provides care for women obstetric fistulas ‐ the most devastating of all childbirth injuries, in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on the seventh day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at visting a patient and her baby at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, a hospital which provides care for women obstetric fistulas ‐ the most devastating of all childbirth injuries, in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on the seventh day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina with Dr Haile Tesfay, Project Co-ordinator for the International Potato Centre on a visit to the Damayno School, at the school’s orange flesh sweet potato plot, where farming methods are thought to the pupils in Tigray, Ethiopia on the sixth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina with Dr Haile Tesfay, Project Co-ordinator for the International Potato Centre on a visit to the Damayno School, at the school’s orange flesh sweet potato plot, where farming methods are thought to the pupils in Tigray, Ethiopia on the sixth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina with Dr Haile Tesfay, Project Co-ordinator for the International Potato Centre on a visit to the Damayno School, at the school’s orange flesh sweet potato plot, where farming methods are thought to the pupils in Tigray, Ethiopia on the sixth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina with Dr Haile Tesfay, Project Co-ordinator for the International Potato Centre on a visit to the Damayno School, where farming methods are thought to the pupils in Tigray, Ethiopia on the sixth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina on a visit to the Damayno School, Tigray, Ethiopia on the sixth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography 2014
Pictured is a little girl from the Damayno School patiently awaiting the arrivial of President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina on a visit to the School in Tigray, Ethiopia on the sixth day of the Presidents 22 day official visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa.Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography 2014

– 10 November 2014 06:00 AM

IT’S 30 years since the appalling famine that saw 700,000 starve to death in a dry, rough place called Tigray in northern Ethiopia. Three decades on, its people are well aware of the Irish response to their country’s plight.

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It’s the old charity cliche, but in Tigray Irish Aid didn’t just feed people for a day by giving them a fish, instead, they taught them to fish and have fed them for life.

President Michael D Higgins visited the region that’s home to 4.6 million people with 80pc of them living in rural areas in homes made from mud and sticks.

“Everybody, especially Tigrayan people, knows about Ireland, they know Ireland is supporting this region in many forms, even the farmers in the fields know all the supports of Ireland and its people,” said Haile Selassie Amare (38), who works for the Tigray Agriculture Research Institute (TARI).

He fled the region during the famine but returned home to a place transformed.

Since 1994, Irish Aid has worked in what was the epicentre of the famine that ultimately claimed the lives of one million people.

The Irish taxpayers’ money has gone towards the development of crops that can survive the climate, such as the sweet potato, the setting up of irrigation systems and the construction of schools and health clinics.

Things have changed drastically since the famine.

“Thirty years ago it was famine, instability, it was not possible to work, there was no stable environment,” explained Mr Selassie Amare.

There is a place an hour-and-a-half away from the capital of Tigray called Damayno, where farmers harvest their corn by hand with sickles and donkeys and camels roam the dirt tracks.

Thirty years ago it was barren and abandoned terrain but in 2014 it is a lush, green valley where vegetables grow in abundance and little children attend a blue- and pink-painted school.

Here, for example, Irish Aid built walls and planted vegetation, which stopped the hillsides eroding and enabled the rain soak into the soil.

As Paul Sherlock, who is head of development in our embassy in Ethiopia puts it: “When you look back over the years it came from a very, very difficult environment to one that has come back to life.”

“We will spend about €26m to €27m of the taxpayers’ money every year here and we have to make sure it’s spent well,” said Ireland’s ambassador in Ethiopia, Aidan O’Hara.

“We spend it on agriculture and livelihoods and health and nutrition as well.

“I think it’s very important that the President comes because the public at large needs to have confidence in what we do and that it’s making a difference.”

President Higgins visited Ethiopia on the first leg of an official three-week visit to Africa.

transformation

“I am very pleased that Irish Aid is involved in so many projects that are going to make, that have already made, such a great transformation in people’s lives,” said the President in Tigray.

Ever since Bob Geldof spearheaded the Live Aid and Band Aid campaigns back in 1984, Ethiopia and the plight of its people has been on the Irish horizon.

Ireland can be proud of the work done by Irish Aid in this remote corner of a country that’s in the process of transforming from its bleak famine-stricken past into one of the most promising economies in Africa.

hnews@herald.ie

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