‘Whoever decides the order of things should reconsider their views. Does anyone think the TV is strange when they play around with bad news? A bank being robbed of rich peoples’ money or a cricketer’s broken hand, outshines the death of a thousand children in a drought-ridden land.
Whoever decides the order of things should reconsider their views. Does anyone think that the papers are strange when they play around with bad news? A politician smiles or a retiring footballer’s tears outshines the death of a thousand children pleading for food, no one hears.’ Michael Stewart
After spending the past month in the drought-ridden region of Raya in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, Michael Stewart’s poem from his anthology Kidz stuff has taken on a new meaning for me. It’s only the number of hungry or dead children which is horribly understated.
Raya is at the epicenter of the worst drought witnessed in Ethiopia for 31 years. Not since the famine and drought in Mekelle during the dictatorship of Mengistu has Ethiopia faced a drought of this length and intensity. And while the death toll is unlikely to reach the horrific heights witnessed at that time due to changes in mindset in the farming population and at least minimal nutritional support from the federal government, it is on the rise.
15 kilos of wheat are delivered each month to the most needy families. For those families of 5-6 who have no other source of income or food, or who are too weak to work, this is too little to survive.
As Ethiopian Enterprises has been working in this badly affected region for the past four years, we have built up a good and open relationship with the local regional government of Raya. Due to the emergency nutritional support which we have been supplying in addition to our project costs since the drought escalated at the end of last year, we have been privy to unusually open information. Ten days ago I was driven out into some of the most badly affected rural villages or ‘Tabias’ in the Raya region to witness the devastation of a failed harvest last autumn for myself. And, quite frankly,I wish I hadn’t seen it. In Erba, in the hamlet of Hadesh Qegnit, we met Ayete Hadush Debesay. He is the father of five children under the age of 14, the youngest just 3 and a half. A week earlier his wife had died of hunger-induced weakness, leaving him to care for their children. In their small hut (pictured) there was no water at all. A cooking pot (back left of the photo) sickled over an open fire. Inside were about 2 inches of a wheat mush broth. This was supposed to last the family for several days.
In the same hamlet, we met Azeka Sameal and her four children. Azeka is a widow. Her youngest child had just been removed from the house with suspected TB, and was unlikely to return. Her hanging head and those of her other children tell the story all too clearly. Children’s immune systems collapse in the face of extreme hunger, and Ethiopian hospitals are not places to recover from malnutrition.
On that day I saw dozens of families like these. My guides urged me on to see more and more of these saddest of sights, but at one point I had to stop. These people were desperately hoping for help and action, certainly not pity or tears. But after three hours of heartbreak, I had worn down every fibre of my composure. My friends, this simply cannot be.
The suffering I saw that day has encouraged me and the board of Ethiopian Enterprises to organise additional fundraising activities to support these wonderful people at this time of desperate need. While the mandate of Ethiopian Enterprises is officially to finance and mentor long-year, sustainable rural projects with model potential, and while we are not a food-aid organization, it is simply not possible for us to stand back and posture about sustainability while people in our project region are dying of hunger. And since the only aid forthcoming in the past few months from NGOs active in the area have been several thousand exercise books and hundreds of pairs of childrens’ shoes, I personally cannot hide under the convenient cloak of an official mandate. When people are starving, you get them food and water. Bakka. You can’t eat either shoes or exercise books.
At a follow up meeting with the government, it became clear that Ethiopian Enterprises has been the only ‘charity’ working in the Raya region who actually thought to ask the regional government what sort of help they most needed at this time. Haven’t we learned anything about meaningful and effective aid in all these years?
Now I can understand that this issue may seem like a distant black spot at the end of a mighty long microscope. A problem far away, minimalized by distance. And in any case, we all have enough to deal with here in the face of massive refugee migration, right? But think about it. Shouldn’t at least part of our support be going to a crisis in a country where people actually want to stay at home? Ethiopia is not one of the countries from which people are fleeing. Ethiopians love their country and want to stay, and Ethiopian Enterprises’ projects are designed to help thousands of them do just that.
Please donate to our emergency relief fund, or join us on April 7th at our fundraising dinner at the Fork&Bottle in support of the emergency fund. Event details on this page in the coming days.