Ethiopia

Christian Aid partners distribute food to needy people in Meda Wolabu district in Ethiopia

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Bidre is the capital of the Meda Wolabu district. It is a desperately poor area; the roads are particularly bad, there is no bus service and it is very hard to find people who want to work here. Bidre sums up the dilemma facing Ethiopia - poor roads and non-existent irrigation systems conspiring to make the fight against food shortages almost impossible in this marginal region of Ethiopia.
The food shortages here have been caused, ironically, by an abundance of rain. This is a green and lush area suffering from what is known as the 'green famine'. The rains came at the wrong time; heavy rains in December ruined the harvest. The farmers have lost most of their assets already; they are ill prepared to deal with yet another setback.

Mengistu Alemu is the district administrator for Meda Wolabu; he finds the problems overwhelming. He sits in a bare office under a huge flag of the federal region of Oromiya. It has the Ethiopian national colours and a tree, symbolising the tree under which traditional justice was dispensed.

Almost half of the 78,000 people in his district are in need of food aid. Mengistu can trace the current problems back to the 1999-2000 drought. 'That drought killed 35,000 livestock, then the harvest was not good because the rains came at the wrong time,' he says. 'This is a drought area, but we have no grain banks for storage. The seed and the harvest goes bad when it is stored outside and suddenly it rains.'

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), a Christian Aid partner, is providing food aid; the initial distribution is for 7,436 people. People line up outside the EECY compound, patiently waiting for their name to be called out.

Arbaye Mohammed 38, and her husband Aden Hassan 40, are sitting under a tree waiting for their food. They came to Bidre three years ago in search of a better life. Six-year-old Ishmael and Sardia 9, are with them; they have already lost five children, two of them in the 1999-2000 drought.

'We have no cattle, no land, we have lost everything, so we came to town,' says Aden. 'If I get an odd job, we eat, otherwise we do not. Before the '99 drought, I had cattle, some died, the others I had to sell for cash.'

Aden's story is a familiar one - most of the farmers here have been obliged to sell their cattle and oxen; without oxen it is impossible to plough the fields. Poverty has locked them into a vicious cycle; with no oxen there is no way to grow crops.

The people waiting for food are also vocal about the failure of the government to invest in their region. Shokure Ali, 50, an imposing woman with eleven children to feed, comes straight to the point. 'Things have got worse year by year. The farmers should get oxen from the government and there should also be something for the health of the people here. The health centre here is empty, there are no medicines and this is a malaria area. People also get sick because of the water, they get diarrhoea and dysentery.'

Ethiopia has lurched from disaster to disaster in the last few years; the country is in urgent need of long-term programmes, which address the root causes of the pervasive poverty. Roads, irrigation systems and grain banks are needed to combat the erratic weather and to help move food from surplus areas to food deficit areas.