Ethiopia: Straddling the hunger gap

News and Press Release
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JEOP project, West Hararghe, Ethiopia

8 December 2009

Amber Meikle

As we arrive at the CARE warehouse, colourful crowds of people are already gathering at the gates. Today is the sixth, monthly round of emergency food distributions to some of the most vulnerable people in Alowa Gora kebele, in Chiro, Ethiopia.

Like more than 80 per cent of people in Ethiopia, 45 year-old Yeshi Arak Abebe relies on farming her small plot of land to produce the food she needs to feed her family. But, a succession of late and poor rains has left her increasingly unable to cope.

"This year I lost my whole crop" explained Yeshi, "So, I work for other families as a cook earning 10 to 15 Birr (around 1USD) a day. It is better than dying, but it is only just enough to survive."

It has been three years since Yeshi had a good harvest, and even then she can only produce enough food to last for six or seven months from her meagre half hectare of land. Yeshi's husband died 10 years ago, and since then she has provided for her two children alone, tilling the land with the support of her neighbours, fetching water and running the household. Then, when her sister died, she also took in her two orphans -doubling the pressure on her to find food and money for school.

Luckily for Yeshi, she was identified by the Government as in need of support, and referred to CARE to receive monthly distributions from it's JEOP project, funded by USAID. Today she will take home 7.5kg of sorghum, 7.5kg of wheat, 4.5 kg of corn soy blend, 0.45kg of oil and 1.5kg of yellow split peas for each member of the household.

"If we did not get this food this year, we would be dead" she told us plainly. "Instead, already my health is better because I'm eating more and I am not having to exhaust myself working for other people. The children are in good health and I can afford for three of them to attend school."

Supervising the distribution today is Yussuf Abubakar, Early Warning Officer for the Government's Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Bureau. He has worked in the district for 18 years, and is acutely aware that this is no one-off emergency. Increasingly erratic and severe weather, linked to climate change, leaves little time for people to recover from the emergencies which are becoming increasingly frequent. Over time, people like Yeshi are becoming less able to rebuild the reserves and assets that traditionally help them to cope with drought, and more likely to succumb next time.

He told us, "there have always been people needing help because of drought, but the last two years have been much worse. JEOP has saved the lives of so many children and so many families. It has reduced their vulnerability, giving them the strength to cultivate their land again."

As Yeshi collects and leaves with the rations that will nourish her family for another month, Yussuf explains "the need is great here and we want to continue working with CARE to save lives and help people to become more productive. The communities love CARE. They believe CARE comes and helps solve their problems."

Yussuf's point is fundamental. This food is saving the life of Yeshi and the hundreds like her here today, but for them to break out of the cycle of emergency more money needs to be invested into longer-term programmes that help them to rebuild their lives, livelihoods and reserves so that they can cope with the next drought or flood.

That is why, as well as reaching more than 500,000 people with emergency aid across Ethiopia, CARE is investing in protecting and diversifying household livelihoods, and investing in communities abilities to prepare for shocks such as drought and uncertainty in agriculture production. This involves promoting practical economic development, helping families to plan family size and space children and pre-emptive disaster risk reduction efforts for communities at risk of drought and reduced food production.

In this work to strengthen community resilience CARE's focus remains on the effects those efforts have on the lives of women and girls. Because our work has clearly demonstrated that when women and girls are able to influence how resources are invested and participate in communal decision-making, households and communities become healthier, wealthier, and more resistant to climatic shocks, such as drought.