Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia’s local partner staff in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region
Kefyalech, a 30-year-old mother who lives in Ethiopia, stays home to care for her six children while her husband, Derara, seeks work. But Derara often comes home without having found a job, because the coffee crop is suffering just like all the others in the two-year rainfall shortage that has gripped Ethiopia for months now, so the family remains hungry.
Three years ago, Kefyalech worked as a daily laborer and earned 10 birr ($0.47) a day, which covered some of the family’s expenses. But these days, Kefyalech and her children wait each night to see if Derara has earned enough money to buy maize flour, the only food they can afford.
Kefyalech’s family is not alone. Poor rainfall over two growing seasons has limited the number of crops, and El Niño is delaying rainfall now. Experts predict the situation will worsen over the next eight months, and it could take more than a year for Ethiopia to recover.
The drought has damaged Ethiopia’s agriculture-based economy and limited its food supply, and it’s expected to continue well into next year; the Ethiopian government estimates that 10.1 million people will need food assistance in 2016, including 5.75 million children. Save the Children, another non-governmental organization working in Ethiopia, estimates that 400,000 children will be at risk of suffering acute malnutrition next year.
Working with the Ethiopian government, ChildFund and its local partner organizations in seven districts are providing supplementary food and cooking oil for nearly 74,000 children under age 5, pregnant and lactating mothers, and elderly people.
ChildFund and its partners are also working to support the government health office, including the health center in Kefyalech’s community. At a nutrition screening recently held there, her youngest child, 3-year-old daughter Debritu, was diagnosed as moderately malnourished in a nutrition screening held there, so the supplementary food Kefyalech was able to take home — Famix, a maize-and-soybean mixture fortified with vitamins and minerals — was especially welcome.
But Kefyalech says she felt she could not give the extra food to just Debritu and deprive her other children.
“As a mother, I had no choice but to feed the whole family, because there has not been enough food in the house,” she says. “I could not feed the supplementary food to only one of my children while seeing the rest going to sleep on an empty stomach.” As a result, the supplement was gone early, and Debritu remains malnourished.
The little girl also came down with pneumonia recently — no surprise, as malnutrition undermines children’s immunities. She is improving, with the help of prescription medication she received from the health center.
Kefyalech is understandably concerned about her family’s fragile future.
“I’m afraid of tomorrow because I have nothing,” she says. “I’m worried for my daughter. I’m scared. What if I don’t get support from ChildFund? I don’t know what is waiting for me tomorrow.” Kefyalech adds that her older children are not going to school anymore because they can’t spare the expense.
ChildFund’s local partners are also working with the Ethiopian government to provide blankets, sheets and mattresses to help the health centers handle the growing demand as more and more children need treatment. These organizations also are supporting the distribution of Plumpy’Nut, a therapeutic food provided by UNICEF for treating severe acute malnutrition, to government health centers in the areas affected by the food shortage.