East Africa is experiencing its most severe drought since the 1950s. In Ethiopia alone we estimate that 3.2 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian relief. With older people in some East African communities accounting for as much as 50 per cent of the population, people in later life are one of the worst affected groups. From our experience we know that the older people are often the most vulnerable and neglected in emergency situations.
Age UK is working with our sister organisation Help Age International to provide much needed emergency relief for an estimated 44,800 people in the Borana zone in Ethiopia, supporting older people by distributing food, water and healthcare. With additional funds 20,000 households or 140,000 people could be reached. We are also helping livestock which is vital for people’s livelihoods by providing water, animal feed and veterinary care. People have been unable to plant crops, feed themselves or let animals graze as the drought has left a barren landscape. Farmers have been unable to sell livestock in order to buy food in the local markets as they have done in previous years, as livestock succumbs to disease and starvation. In fact, in just the Borana zone alone 250,000 livestock have died due to the drought.
We know that people in later life have been severely affected by the mass migration of younger people to cities, leaving older people living in drought affected areas with a lack of access to water, food or opportunities to generate income with which to support themselves. Often older people will be left caring for grandchildren, not only are they looking after children but they will also have to look after themselves.
Alison Rusinow, HelpAge Ethiopia Director said recently that: ‘Grandparents in Ethiopia are the primary carers for 2.5 million children, doing their best to ensure the children are cared for and go to school. But the food price hikes mean these grandparents now frequently have to choose between feeding themselves or their grandchildren and invariably they prioritise the children.’
The rise in global food and fuel prices on the world’s markets has further compounded the problem. The price of grain in local markets is now beyond the means of most ordinary people. A prolonged drought and rising fuel costs will further drive up the cost of basic food staples. The sheer scale of the drought cannot be underestimated as 11 million people across the most arid parts of East Africa are affected. In Ethiopia people are walking for days or even weeks to find water, pasture and food but significant numbers of people are unable to find what they need to survive.
Age UK and HelpAge are the only organisations specifically targeting older people in emergency relief programmes. Help us to help those hit by the current drought in East Africa by supporting our International work.