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Global Health Thought Leader Uncategorized

Ethiopia Drought: We can be the answer to untold prayers

By Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE

Recently we’ve been hit with a seemingly ceaseless cycle of disastrous news – from the terrorist attacks in Belgium and Pakistan to the protracted crisis in Syria. The fact that Ethiopia is facing the worst drought in 30 years and that it threatens 10 million people might understandably be absorbed as just one more crisis to provoke despair.

But there is another dimension to this story.

CARE President & CEO Michelle Nunn

CARE President & CEO Michelle Nunn

It is the fact that the Ethiopian government and the international humanitarian community are standing together to avert the potential catastrophic effects of this emergency. And that through this concerted and far-sighted engagement, we have capacity to help millions survive an extreme situation.

The drought itself is a result of El Niño, the weather pattern that is wreaking havoc on vulnerable people and communities around the world, delivering too much rain in some places, too little in others, sparking forest fires, landslides, and cyclones.

El Niño’s Ground Zero is Ethiopia, where 80 percent of the people are farmers. And they are getting hit hard. In February, I visited one of the hardest hit regions, Dire Dawa and East Hararghe, where crop production fell 70 percent last year.

As we drove over and through the dessicated landscape of hills and bumpy, dusty roads,  I saw dozens of women working, their vibrant hijabs billowing in the wind. They were pumping water, carrying unimaginable loads, herding goats and tending babies.

Yet when I sat cross-legged in a circle with a group of these women, they told me that despite all of their hard work their crops had repeatedly failed.

Fatima Adula, a mother of six children ages 2 to 14, was stoic but desperately worried. For Fatima and her family, last year’s lack of rain meant a lack of food. “What we planted was totally damaged,” she said. “There was not even a stalk for us to feed our livestock.” Her family was eating one meal a day – food rations from the government.

She’s fearful and uncertain how she will get through the coming months of drought.  “If it is not raining in the coming season, we don’t know what to do,” she said. “Only God knows how we can survive. We are praying to God. And God is not hearing us. We are worrying.”

The Ethiopian government and aid organizations such as CARE are working tirelessly to answer her worry by supporting families and communities like Fatima’s. We have mobilized resources. We’re distributing food — split peas, wheat and oil — and we’re working with the government to staff and supply clinics, where the most vulnerable, the malnourished, can be treated before it’s too late.

I walked through warehouses and saw the extraordinary efforts of our team, who are feeding close to 500,000 people.  I witnessed a food distribution where the men from the villages pitched in to carry the large sacks of food from the warehouses, lining them up for the women to receive the families’ portions first.

CARE is also assisting more than 150,000 malnourished children and mothers, rehabilitating water sources and enabling more than 290,000 people to access safe drinking water, in spite of a drought.

This is a different kind of story and we, the global community, have the capacity to write a different kind of ending. Too often we can’t see a way of changing the trajectory of suffering, but Ethiopia presents a remarkably clear challenge. We have the means to meet the challenge and ensure that Fatima and millions more like her can not only survive this drought but go on to thrive after it.

But we do need to act quickly to ensure that we have activated the resources that will be required in the coming months, focusing on ensuring the food and nutrition security of the most vulnerable.

When I asked Fatima and other women in East Hararghe what message they wanted me to take back with me, they replied “Please ask those that have so much to extend a hand so that we can feed and educate our children until the rains come again.“

The drought in Ethiopia should lead us not to despair, but to hopeful action. In this emergency, we know what needs to be done, we are prepared to do it and we can be the answer to untold prayers.

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