Reporting by ChildFund staff
Halko, 28, is the mother of 3-month-old Fentale, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a condition that can lead to brain damage and death. A two-year drought in Ethiopia has caused a serious food shortage, leaving millions without enough to eat. Halko, who is married and has three more children, eats only a diet of maize flour and is unable to produce enough milk to feed Fentale.
After a health extension officer from the government of Ethiopia identified the possibility of severe malnutrition, Halko took the baby to a health post in their village, where a health worker referred them to the health center. Halko spoke to us recently about the drought and the food shortage affecting her family.
Due to the absence of rain, the conditions here are so hot and dry. It’s difficult to live in this village. The trees give no shade. The drought is really affecting us. It started two years ago. There’s been no change. It is the same. If the rain comes, the situation will be different.
We are facing a problem. The livestock are not able to produce milk. If the livestock can’t give milk and I can’t add milk to our porridge, then we face problems. We eat only maize porridge without milk. Our livestock have no pastures to graze because there’s been no rain. They don’t have grass to eat. Because of this drought, we have a food crisis. Our children also suffer because of the drought. They don’t get any curd or milk. In the past, we’d add different things like onions or rice – and we may have gotten tomato or oil sometimes. Now we eat only maize. We can’t even get oil to cook with.
The land is dry and it produces no crops. There’s been two years of no rain, and we haven’t been able to harvest crops. We planted maize and white teff [an important food grain used to make staple food injera], but since there was no moisture, the seeds did not germinate. During normal times, we used to buy cabbage and potatoes from the market, and we cooked it together with the maize, but there’s no more now.
The distance to the water point is two hours from here, one way. If we go in the morning, we return back here by noon. My, how we travel.
Fentale is 3 months old. We took him to the health center, and they measured him. They told me yesterday he will be admitted and treated there, and I have to stay there with him. It started after he was born; now he’s 3 months old. There’s been no improvement or growth, and he cries the whole night. If he’s not able to get milk, he cries all night. He cries and kicks all night.
He started coughing after he was born. After coughing, he would cry all day. Especially in the hot weather, he’d cough and cough.
If I’m able to give him some milk, he’s better. If he gets some milk, he’ll sleep. But if he can’t get milk from my breast, he won’t sleep and will just cry. When he first started crying, we took him to the health center. They identified his problem and advised me to eat different foods, not just maize, and to drink enough pure water. They said to try to breastfeed him more often.
I fear for the future. I don’t know whether Fentale will pass through this situation. We are hoping he’ll recover his health and grow to be a man. We don’t know if this will happen, and he’s not able to speak and tell us his problem. The whole night I sit with him, and this week is somewhat better.
What we need right now is teff. Wheat is not good. Maize doesn’t really have any benefits.
A balanced diet is important for my family. For their physical well-being, they need pure water and milk too.
If God gives us rain, we will try to plant crops. If our child recovers, I will be thankful. We need food. That’s our most serious problem.
You can help families like Halko’s by making a donation to our Ethiopia emergency fund.
By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Content Manager
Happy World Food Day! There are starving children in Africa.
At how many dinner tables in how many homes have finicky children been scolded that way to get them to eat their dinners?
Or maybe it was India — “There are starving children in India. Eat your meatloaf.”
And how many children have rolled their eyes at their admonishing parents? How many of those parents really were speaking from a place of gut knowledge about what it means for a child to starve?
Clichés come to be clichés because they’re true. There are, and ever have been, starving children in Asia and in Africa. They are also in South America and in North America — right here in our back yard. All over the world.
A truth devolves into a cliché through overuse. We become numb to the idea.
The whole world has become numb to the idea of starving children. That’s why fundraising for a slow-onset crisis like a drought is so challenging, much more so than for a splashy, sudden typhoon or a devastating earthquake.
But 5-year-old Selamawit is not a cliché. She’s a little girl who lives in Ethiopia, where 8.2 million people right now are suffering through a food crisis.
Selamawit became so malnourished that her condition tipped into kwashiorkor, or protein-energy malnutrition, which causes loss of muscle mass, irritation, fatigue, skin issues, diarrhea, liver damage, failure to grow and more. Kwashiorkor is behind the round bellies we see in the now-clichéd photos of starving children in developing countries; the lack of protein causes fluid to collect in the abdomen and elsewhere.
Selamawit is in treatment now, but she will likely never reach her full height. Her brain development may have been irreparably disrupted — time will tell. (Another cliché.)
And time will tell for Ethiopia, but we know what to expect for the coming months: The drought that has decimated the harvest nationwide is expected to continue well into 2016, thanks to what some are calling the strongest El Niño event on record. In a country where 86 percent of the population depends on subsistence farming, the failed harvest means that families must instead purchase all their food, and prices are rising. Poorer families can’t afford the food they need, so they reduce their intake dangerously.
It happens slowly and quietly. And it silences children.
You can help by donating to our Ethiopia food crisis response here.
And you can take the opportunity of this World Food Day to tell your friends and networks what’s happening in Ethiopia. Tell them about Selamawit, and about her brother, 7-year-old Temesgen.
Every day after that, keep an eye on the crisis, and encourage those around you to do so, too. You’ll have to look for it in the media, because it’s not a typhoon or an earthquake. We’ll keep you posted here.
Reporting by ChildFund The Gambia
The distribution took place during three days in the 32 communities where ChildFund has operations. All families received 50 kg of rice and 3 liters of cooking oil. We expect to continue support for affected families through October, when we anticipate food security for the region will improve.
“My family and I are indeed very thankful for ChildFund’s intervention because there is no longer a fear of food shortage,” says Mai, mother of a sponsored child in Siffoe. “We can now enjoy the pleasures of having three meals per day.”
ChildFund New Zealand, a member of the ChildFund Alliance, as well as corporate and individual donations are helping fund the emergency food supplies.