More than 10 million people in East Africa are in desperate need of support to avert a humanitarian disaster. There have been suggestions that this is not a real crisis, that aid agencies are ‘crying wolf’ and that a famine is not taking place. A careful re-reading of agency appeals will show that we are not saying that this is – yet – a famine. However, it could become one if we do not act now.
We know that people are suffering hunger, thirst and exhaustion. Crops are failing and cattle are dying. 1,700 people a day are fleeing Somalia for Ethiopia in search of the most basic of human needs for survival – food and water.
This is the worst drought for 60 years, it has rained little in this region for 2 years and the next harvests are expected to be extremely poor. Coupled with the ever-rising cost of food and fuel, basic staples are now out of many people’s reach. In Ethiopia alone, food price inflation stands at staggering 32.5%.
There has also been a significant reduction in herd size, in some areas 60-80% of cattle herds have been wiped out. People depend on livestock as a source of income and to feed their families.
Age UK is working with our sister charity HelpAge International in the Borana zone in Ethiopia to support an estimated 44,800 older people, who are often the most vulnerable and neglected in emergencies.
From our work here we know that there has been an increase in malnutrition not only amongst children under-5 and pregnant mothers, but also amongst older people. In some areas, water is being rationed but in others, there is nothing left at all. Amongst the already depleted herds of livestock, disease is starting to breakout and some households are fleeing to less affected areas, to try and escape the drought.
Brendan Gormley, Chief Executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee said: ‘If the public are as generous as we know they can be, if world government’s step up and if members and others rapidly increase their responses then a catastrophe can still be averted.’
In light of this, it’s excellent news that the UK Government is promising £38 million to the United Nation’s World Food Programme. But more aid is needed to ensure this crisis does not become a catastrophe.
We must act now to increase the distribution of clean water and food rations. In doing so we are learning from the past and not returning to the early 1980s, when the starvation and death of millions of people was highlighted on the news.
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.