Recalling the 1984 famine that killed nearly 1 million Ethiopians, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the current situation was "like living through a recurring nightmare."
Severe food shortages caused by successive years of drought have put an estimated 6.3 million Ethiopians at serious risk of starvation with an additional 8 to 9 million people who are vulnerable to famine. Contributing to Ethiopia's mounting humanitarian crisis are the lingering effects of a bitter war with neighboring Eritrea, the high rate of HIV/AIDS infection, and a chronic and pervasive poverty. Significant aggravating factors include the general lack of household food stores, a widespread diminished purchasing power, and limited access to quality healthcare
To help minimize the effects of drought, International Medical Corps (IMC), a global humanitarian non-profit organization, is focusing both attention and resources on the problem through its emergency nutrition and health program, which was recently established in the West Hararghe region of the country.
Ethiopia's health and nutrition indicators are distressing. For every 1,000 children under five years of age, 199 will not live to their fifth birthday. Maternal mortality is estimated at 1,400 per 100,000 live births. An estimated 2.6 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. A total of 58 percent of all child deaths are attributable to protein-energy malnutrition, 44 percent of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency.
Like most of IMC's interventions, the Ethiopian program reflects a strategy that emphasizes the organization's integrated approach to achieving its objectives, which in the case of Ethiopia include decreasing the prevalence of severe malnutrition and enhancing the health status of the region's drought-affected populations.
IMC staff are coordinating and establishing a multi-pronged approach to address these issues in the regions. Interventions include several activities that specifically address the problem of severe malnutrition, such as establishing therapeutic feeding centers; increasing capacity of health and community systems to provide nutritional emergency response through training of local health workers; and establishing nutritional early warning systems. Efforts designed to improve health status include establishing an expanded program of immunizations and improving emergency prevention and preparedness response.
By offering training and health care to local populations and medical assistance to people at highest risk, and with the flexibility to respond rapidly to emergency situations, IMC rehabilitates devastated communities and helps bring them back to self-reliance.