Ethiopia: 'I've never seen a drought like this in my life before'

Many children can no longer even get to school, since they are too weak to cope with the often long and difficult walk to school.

By Eva-Maria Kolmann 

NEW YORK—Hunger is nothing new for the people of Ethiopia. Various areas of the country are regularly ravaged by dry spells. Nevertheless, not since many years ago has the situation been as critical as it is today: Roughly 18 million people are affected by the current drought.

The cattle are dying, the people are forced to abandon their villages to go in search of food in less severely affected areas; nomadic peoples, in search of pasture for their livestock, are now moving into new areas, sparking conflict with the local population. Many children can no longer even get to school, since they are too weak to cope with the often long and difficult walk to school. 

Hagosa Gebru is the mother of a family of nine. She told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: "My family has had to reduce the number and size of our daily meals. We need food, so that our children can continue with their education."

Distribution of food aid in Ethiopia.jpg.2.jpg

Tsega Aregawi has eight children. She is still breastfeeding one of them. She said: "I've never seen a drought like this before in my life. None of the seeds we have planted have grown. We've managed to survive so far by eating the wild cactus, and we fed our cattle on what was left of the cactus. But now this food has also dried up. I'm afraid of what will happen if the government and the aid agencies don't help us.”

In a recent statement, the Catholic bishops' conference of Ethiopia warned that young people are increasingly likely to take the risk of emigrating abroad using illegal channels, in order to search for work. "Elderly parents will be left behind without any children, wives without their husbands, who are in many cases the main breadwinners of their families, and women and girls will be exposed to all kinds of violence and abuse,” the bishops warned.

It is also extremely important to help the local catechists, who play a particularly crucial role in Ethiopia, as in many other countries of Africa. Most parishes are vast, and priests simply cannot visit every village often enough. Consequently, it is the catechists who teach the faith to the people in the villages, prepare them for the sacraments and pray with the people.. They manage to support their often large families by what they can grow on the land.

Now, when the harvests are failing, there is a danger that the catechists too will have to emigrate to find work elsewhere. This would leave the faithful in many villages without any pastoral support at all. Hence it is of the greatest important for the life of these communities to be able to support their catechists.

Aid to the Church in Need is providing emergency aid for 1,415 of these lay catechists in the 13 dioceses worst affected by the drought. The aid comes to a total of $500,000, or approx. $300 per family for the entire year.

Food aid distribution in Ethiopia; ACN photo


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