‘Everyone’s starving’ in Ethiopia, aid worker says – SHASHAMANE, Ethiopia (AP)

June 9th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Like so many other victims of Ethiopia’s hunger crisis, Usheto Beriso weighs just half what he should. He is always cold and swaddled in a blanket. His limbs are stick-thin.

But Usheto is not the typical face of Ethiopia’s chronic food problems, the scrawny baby or the ailing toddler. At 55 years old, he is among a growing number of adults and older children — traditionally less vulnerable groups — who have been stricken by severe hunger because of poor rains and recent crop failure in southern Ethiopia, health workers say.

“To see adults in this condition, it’s a very serious situation,” nurse Mieke Steenssens, a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, told The Associated Press as she registered the 5-foot, 4-inch Usheto’s weight at just 73 pounds (33 kilograms). (more…)

Like so many other victims of Ethiopia’s hunger crisis, Usheto Beriso weighs just half what he should. He is always cold and swaddled in a blanket. His limbs are stick-thin.

But Usheto is not the typical face of Ethiopia’s chronic food problems, the scrawny baby or the ailing toddler. At 55 years old, he is among a growing number of adults and older children — traditionally less vulnerable groups — who have been stricken by severe hunger because of poor rains and recent crop failure in southern Ethiopia, health workers say.

“To see adults in this condition, it’s a very serious situation,” nurse Mieke Steenssens, a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, told The Associated Press as she registered the 5-foot, 4-inch Usheto’s weight at just 73 pounds (33 kilograms).
Aid groups say the older victims suggest an escalation in the crisis in Ethiopia, a country that drew international attention in 1984 when a famine compounded by communist policies killed some 1 million people.

This year’s crisis, brought on by a countrywide drought and skyrocketing global food prices, is far less severe. But while figures for how many adults and older children are affected are not available, at least four aid groups interviewed by the AP said they noticed a troubling increase.

“We’re overwhelmed,” said Margaret Aguirre, a spokeswoman for the International Medical Corps, a California-based aid agency. “There’s not enough food and everyone’s starving and that’s all there is to it.”

“Older children are starting to show the signs of malnutrition when normally they might be able to withstand shocks to the system,” Aguirre added. “What’s particularly concerning is that the moderately malnourished are soaring. It’s increasing so much that it means those children are going to slide into severe malnutrition.”

Ethiopia is not alone in suffering through the worldwide food crisis, which is threatening to push up to a billion people across the globe into hunger. Last week, a U.N. summit of 181 countries pledged to reduce trade barriers and boost agricultural production to combat rising food prices.

Drought is especially disastrous in Ethiopia because more than 80 percent of people live off the land. Agriculture drives the economy, accounting for half of all domestic production and 85 percent of exports.

The U.N. children’s agency has characterized this year’s food shortage — in which an estimated 4.5 million people are in need of emergency food aid — as the worst since 2003, when droughts led 13.2 million people to seek such aid. In 2000, more than 10 million needed emergency food.

Studies by the International Medical Corps in southern Ethiopia — the epicenter of the crisis — show that up to one in four young mothers is showing signs of moderate malnutrition.

Ethiopia’s top disaster response official, Simon Mechale, insists that the food situation is “under control” and will be resolved within four months. But in the countryside, there are signs that drought has taken a more serious toll.

At a recent food distribution in a village some 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of the capital, more than 4,000 people showed up for free wheat and cooking oil, but only 1,300 rations were available.

Harried health workers picked through the impatient crowd, sorting out the sickest children. Frantic mothers proffered their withered infants, hoping the children’s poor state would earn some food for the family.

Ayelech Daka said her 6-year-old son, Tariken Lakamu, has been living on one meal a day for the past three months.

“He was very fat three months ago,” said his mother, Ayelech said. “He was normal.”

Now, he’s a pile of bones and skin; he vomits just seconds after taking a bite of a biscuit offered by an aid worker.

“I’m weak,” the child said. “I feel sick. I don’t get any food.”

Another mother, Ukume Dubancho, rocked a listless infant, trying to squeeze out drops of breast milk for her children, ages 4 months and 4 years, both of whom show signs of severe malnutrition.

“I am not able to walk, even,” Ukume said. “I walk for one kilometer and I have to rest.”

Villagers said they can’t afford the food on the market. The few mature ears of corn in the market were selling for about 11 cents per ear. Last year, when the rains were good, that money would buy six or seven ears of corn.

Aid agencies are issuing desperate appeals for donor funding, saying emergency intervention is not enough. Ethiopia receives more food aid than nearly every other country in the world, most of it from the United States, which has provided $300 million in emergency assistance to relief agencies in the past year.

But despite the international help, the country is again facing hunger on a mass scale. Part of the reason, according to John Holmes, the top U.N. humanitarian official, is the country’s climate, chronic drought and the large population — some 78 million people. He said the U.N. was hoping to boost the number of people it helps here.

“The World Food Program feeds some 8 million people already, together with the others in Ethiopia,” he said. “But we may need to increase that, because of drought.”

  1. Aselefu
    | #1

    Are we to assume that plus 70 million people are starving in a country which is registering record harvest for the past few years? Either the world bank and IMF are exaggerating about the economical progress or the aid agencies are quoted out of context. Which ever the motive, is it necessary to always paint a negative picture about Ethiopia? Is the situation really as bad as portrayed? Who gains by always downplaying Ethiopia’s progress? When we can answer these problems, then we would be able to solve Ethiopia’s real problems.

  2. Dil Dil
    | #2

    Aselefu:

    The situation is actually much worse than what has been portrayed here. Too bad you don’t have the eyes to see and the brain to analyze the situation.

    Dil Le Ethiopia aka “Kill Zenawi”

  3. Zheim
    | #3

    OK Dil the situation is “worse than what has been prortayed” so now what? Why do you need to insult other people here? Do you think this kind of behavior helps anyone?! I have enough of this childish behavior when it comes to ethiopian policy: people insult each other, insult zenawi, erythreans and then zenawi supporters insult others, and THEN WHAT?

    Where is the analysis of the situation? the proposed solution? Nobody knows, nobody cares, always the same. We could talk about the IMF policies in Ethiopia since years, about the result of the financial institutions in this countries, which ahev been declared by some experts as directly responsible for the situation in Ethiopia, about teh debt of third world countries which has no legitimacy; but no! We continue again, and again.
    Maybe the day, when WE will change, when we will discuss our solutions, then something will change

  4. Aselefu
    | #4

    Ok Dil, how is the situation worse then, if it is more than the entire Ethiopian population that is suffering? Why get personal when One can discuss politely? Dont get emotional. Ask not what your country can do for you, when you have no clue to what you have done to your country, Ethiopia? Unlike many who shed crocodile tears about the situation, you can do a lot to help. You can start by helping one Ethiopian and the domino effect could be monumental. Blaming the west wont get anyone anywhere. We have to help ourselves first if we love our country. Since when did Ethiopians sink to a level of resorting to name calling. I dont think that people with good eyesight and well-developed brain would resort to personal attack, when the issue gets to hot to handle. What makes people think that they are more Ethiopian than others when they dont even know who they are talking with. Ignorance is the greatest disservice to humanity.
    If one has done anything however big or small to help his fellow Ethiopian, then there is nothing to be ashamed of.

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