From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Waiting for food in southern Ethiopia

Date 26 Apr 2000 09:59:58


By Paul Jeffrey

BORENA, Ethiopia/GENEVA, 26 April 2000 (lwi) - As the world scrambles to
provide food for millions of hungry Ethiopians, Yatani Dalayo can barely
stand, and knows he would never make it walking to Dubuluch, a small
village three kilometers away. So he sits in his simple grass hut,
staring at the cold ashes of a fire that has not heated food for days.

Dalayo, an animal herder, roams the arid landscape of southern Ethiopia
with his cattle and goats, leading the animals through grasslands
watered by seasonal rains. But it has not rained for three years, so he
has slowly sold off his cattle and used the proceeds to feed his family.
Today, the lean times have become impossible times, and Dalayo has
nothing left. The last five of his herd died after his group of fellow
pastoralists arrived here a few weeks ago. Hundreds of cattle skeletons
lay baking in the hot sun around their encampment. The animals that died
most recently have their skin intact; their owners do not even have the
energy to skin them and sell the hides.

In addition to the carcasses littering the desert, the landscape around
Dubuluch has changed in other ways. A new cemetery has been established
just east of the town, with more than 100 new cairns marking the graves
of family members who succumbed to starvation.

His emaciated body covered by a shawl, Dalayo says his wife and children
walked to the nearby town in hope of selling a few pieces of firewood
they had gathered. Asked how he feels, he replies in a barely audible
voice that he is fine, not sick but hungry. He does not complain. He
just waits.

Will this man still be alive by the time relief assistance arrives from
the outside world? That is a question being asked throughout the
drought-plagued Horn of Africa, where some 16 million people are at risk
of starvation. Half that number lives in Ethiopia.

The international community has pledged to help; yet to many of the
victims the time lag between promises and food deliveries has seemed
inordinately long.

"It will be a crime against humanity if we let hundreds of thousands of
people die because there is not enough food here," declared Christian
Balslev-Olesen, general secretary of DanChurchAid, who during a recent
visit to Ethiopia, met with drought victims throughout the Borena

"Ethiopia has the infrastructure in place, a very good monitoring
system, experienced non-governmental organizations, and a very organized
society at the local level. There is no excuse for the international
community to let people here die," he said.

ACT issues USD 32 million appeal for Ethiopia

DanChurchAid is a member of Action by Churches Together (ACT), a
worldwide alliance of churches and aid agencies responding to
emergencies. In early April, ACT, which is organizationally based with
the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and World Council of Churches (WCC)
in Geneva, issued an appeal to its members to come up with USD 32
million in relief supplies for Ethiopia, including food, seeds, and

Balslev-Olesen came to Ethiopia in mid-April to participate in talks
aimed at creating an even broader international response to the drought.
ACT, which brings together mostly Protestant and Orthodox churches and
agencies, is soon expected to join with the Rome-based Caritas
Internationalis, the main emergency and development network of the Roman
Catholic Church, in issuing a common appeal for Ethiopian relief work
carried out by the Joint Relief Partnership (JRP), a national body
formed by several faith-based organizations that began coordinating
their operations during the 1984-85 famine.

The ACT-Caritas appeal would support programs of the JRP, which include
the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), LWF, and
Ethiopian Orthodox Church, all members of the alliance. The Ethiopian
Catholic Church and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the overseas
development and relief arm of the United States Catholic Bishops
Conference, belong to the JRP.

Early this year the JRP announced plans by its members to provide food
assistance to about ten percent of the 8 million Ethiopians that were
then expected to go hungry in 2000. But following the worsening drought
conditions, officials presently predict that another 2.6 million people
will soon be added to the rolls of those needing help. Church-related
agencies are beginning preparations to expand their role even further.

Although JRP members and others in the ACT and Caritas networks have
been sounding the alarm about an impending famine for months, much of
the world did not seem to notice until 3 April when the British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired dramatic video images of starving
children near the town of Gode in the Somali region of eastern Ethiopia.
The emotional scenes were shot at a feeding center run by the Ogaden
Welfare Society, a local Ethiopian organization supported in part by
Christian Aid, an ACT member from Great Britain.

Within days of the BBC broadcast, the rest of the world started trekking
to the site. By 20 April, more than 250 foreign correspondents had
registered with the government to travel to Gode, and the Ogaden Welfare
Society was inundated with visits by representatives of donor agencies
that were interested in providing funds to help feed starving children.

While the situation at Gode and other nearby villages is definitely
critical, the now well televised scenes from there do not tell the whole
story. "That pocket of Ethiopia has been severely hit by the drought,
but it is not representative of the whole country," stated Anne
Bousquet, the CRS country representative in Ethiopia, following a visit
there on 15 April. She warned that there are "many areas that are at
high risk, however, so if aid does not come in a timely manner, we are
going to see a lot more Godes."

Aid officials agree that Borena is next in line for the drought to turn
into a full-blown famine. In parts of the region, more than 90 percent
of cattle and 65 percent of sheep have already died. Many farmers are
using drought-resistant camels to plough their fields, as their oxen are
dead or too weak to work. With many pastoralists selling off their
remaining animals to buy food, livestock prices have plummeted. A cow
that cost 400 Ethiopian Birr (USD 50) in February 1999 cost only 100
Birr (USD 12) in February this year. Today it is hard to find a buyer at
any price. "No one wants to buy skinny cattle," said Gollo Huke,
director of integral development for the EECMY's southern synod.

If rains return to normal, aid workers say it could take many of the
families in this area as many as five to seven years to replenish their
herds. Even for those animals that have survived until now, high levels
of stress will prevent female animals from getting pregnant very soon.
That would mean no milk, an important part of the people's diet,
especially for children.

Not surprisingly, when the EECMY staff conducted a survey last February
and March in several areas of Borena, they found that more than
one-third of the children under five in the region were malnourished. In
several villages, schools have closed down as pupils lacked the energy
to study.

Stein Villumstad, the assistant general secretary for policy and human
rights of Norwegian Church Aid, another ACT member said it is important
for aid agencies to provide animal fodder as well as food for people in

"Distributing food is relatively easy, but dealing with the long-term
effects of the drought will be much harder, and much more difficult to
get funding for," Villumstad said. He claimed that only 15 to 20 percent
of food-for-work relief programs have any significant impact on
long-term production and survival strategies among the pastoral
communities. "It will not be sufficient for aid agencies to just provide
food for a few months. We have got to help people increase their ability
to cope with drought in the long run."

The war between Eritrea and Ethiopia

Another concern in the overall effort to stave off a major famine in
Ethiopia is the ongoing war between that country and its neighbor
Eritrea. According to the director of the Lutheran World Federation
(LWF) Department for World Service (DWS), Rudolf Hinz, who participated
in the mid-April talks involving other ACT members, a peaceful
settlement of the conflict between the two nations would go a long way
in securing financial and material commitment from potential donors.

Sharing with lwi  his impressions of the relief coordination efforts in
Ethiopia, Hinz said the war between the two Horn of African countries,
was among the issues discussed during meetings that a delegation of the
ACT executive committee had with other partners that are responding to
Ethiopia's urgent need for food and medical aid to prevent widespread
death by starvation.

Recently, the LWF general secretary, Dr. Ishmael Noko, urged Ethiopia
and Eritrea to "move beyond the dictates of politics to the dictates of
human need, and find the will and means to end this war."

In a letter in early April to Eritrea's President Isaias Afewerki and
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi respectively, Noko emphasized the
LWF's long standing commitment to partnership in the areas of
humanitarian assistance and development in both countries. He said that
the looming crisis "sets woe upon woe for the suffering people" already
bearing the consequences of the seemingly intractable conflict between
the two nations.

While Noko stated the LWF's concern at the slow pace at which the
international community has responded to the disaster, he emphasized
that the humanitarian imperative which calls for a sufficient and timely
response to the famine in the region "also demands an end to this war".
He added that one could not overlook the allocation of huge resources to
the ongoing conflict and the death and injuries that arise from it.

(The LWF is a global communion of 128 member churches in 70 countries
representing 59 5 million of the world's 63.1 million Lutherans. Its
highest decision-making body is the Assembly, held every six or seven
years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by a 49-member Council,
which meets annually, and by its Executive Committee. The LWF
secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)

[Lutheran World Information is the information service of the Lutheran
World Federation (LWF). Unless specifically noted, material presented
does not represent positions or opinions of the LWF or of its various
units. Where the dateline of an article contains the notation (lwi), the
material may be freely reproduced with acknowledgment.]

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Lutheran World Information
Assistant Editor, English: Pauline Mumia

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