‘We pray for rain’: Ethiopia faces catastrophic famine as livestock die from severe drought

(ORDO NEWS) — Animal carcasses litter the ground in areas where it has not rained, and millions of people are left without enough food and water in a country already engulfed in civil war.

Nimo Abdi Duh’s shoulder circumference is only 12 cm, and although this figure means nothing to her, it matters to the medical professionals treating her. Two-year-old Nimo, like many other children in the arid lowlands of Ethiopia, suffers from malnutrition.

“We’ve been hit by a drought,” her mother, Shems Dire, says, looking at her anxiously. “We don’t have milk to give to the children. My child is sick due to lack of food, and this is due to the drought… Our livestock has suffered from the drought. We have lost a lot of livestock.”

“We pray to Allah for rain.”

In a country already grappling with humanitarian problems caused by the civil war, aid workers and local officials say another crisis is slowly unfolding as a severe drought has hit much of southern and northeastern Ethiopia.

By mid-March, more than 6.8 million people in the affected regions are estimated to be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Nearly 850,000 children in these areas will suffer severe malnutrition this year due to a combination of drought, conflict and economic downturn, according to Unicef.

“We have failed in three rainy seasons in a row,” says Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF country director. “If it rains in April, the situation will improve. But if not, then we are in for something comparable to what we saw in 1999 or 1993-94.” These years brought drought crises to Ethiopia, leaving millions of people starving and some starving to death.

Now to help get relief supplies to those who need them most, Unicef ​​is calling for £23.7m to be raised, including for water delivery, well restoration and baby food. If this money is not collected, Rotigliano warns: “As they say in West Africa, ce sera la catastrophe [it will be a catastrophe].”

An estimated 4.4 million people are experiencing acute water stress, with low-lying areas of Ethiopia – the southeastern region of Somalia and part of Oromia – hardest hit by the drought.

Abdi Farah Ahmed of the regional health bureau in Jijiga, Somalia, says the lack of rainfall – which locally was caused by locust infestations – has led to crop failures, livestock deaths and increased malnutrition. Many people have fled their homes, he adds.

More than a fifth of children under five in Somalia suffer from global acute malnutrition, according to a December survey. Abdi Farah says the number of people suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is also on the rise.

According to him, last year the average number of people admitted to regional medical institutions with SAM was more than 9,000 people. “But in December 2021, the number of new CAM cases admitted to healthcare facilities was 11,588. This means an increase of 18.5% [from the previous month],” he adds.

Zainab Woli, a mother of seven from the village of Saglo in the Somali region, says the lack of rainfall has taken a toll on her health. She used to sell some of her goats to supplement her income, but due to a drought, she lost almost half of them.

“We depend on our livestock. We have lost many of them. Who knows, maybe people will die next time? I have never seen such a drought … Five years ago there was a drought in our area, but at least we had food. But now we don’t have enough food for our family,” she says.

We pray for rain Ethiopia faces catastrophic famine as livestock die from severe drought 2

She is far from the only one affected by the loss of livestock. The land of Saglo is littered with the carcasses of animals that died from the drought. Cows, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys have died, and their owners are trying to survive in their absence.

“The situation is desperate,” says Ayes Mohammed, a mother of five from the village of Gebias in Somalia, who lost 20 cows and 80 goats and sheep due to the drought.

“Goats and sheep are not surviving. There is still some hope for the cows if we get food soon. I’m worried about my children. For the last 10 days I’ve been feeding them by borrowing food from my neighbors. But today I’m glad the government has distributed food to our village. I received 20 kg of rice and 20 kg of sugar.”

For Abdirahman Ali Hussain, a health worker in Somalia’s Korahei zone, it is clear that the government cannot deal with the problem alone.

The drought also affects areas in the Southern Region of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples in the southwest of the country and Afar in the northeast, where fighting has recently taken place between the rebel forces of Tigray and the federal government forces.

“The government is trying to provide everything necessary, but there is an overload,” says Abdirahman.

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