El Nino in Ethiopia: Providing care in a food crisis

Dasi Jamen, a 20-year-old mother of one, holding a handful of seeds at a CARE food distribution centre in Oromiya, East Haraghe, Ethiopia

An extreme and prolonged drought in Ethiopia, created by one of the strongest El Niño weather cycles in years, has caused two successive crop seasons to fail. It’s left over 10 million people in a desperate situation, without enough food to eat. The situation is so bad that many families have resorted to eating their crop seeds — meaning that they have nothing left to plant for the next harvest.

This has been the worst drought I have seen in my lifetime.

An elderly woman in Ethiopia

Kediya Shekeleh, age 60, has known a lot of hardship. Of the eight children she gave birth to, only two survived. Her eldest child, her 40-year-old son, has eight children to look after and struggles to provide food for the family. After harvests failed, Kediya and other family members have joined more than 100 people waiting at the CARE distribution centre in Oromiya, East Haraghe. She says:

It has been the worst hungry time I have faced. Even my children are having difficulty at this time.

Her ration of 1.4 kg of split peas, 15kg of wheat and 0.45kg of oil must see her through to next month. At this particular warehouse, CARE distributes essential food items to 1,000 people per day. CARE is reaching 33,000 people per month in Oromiya, where families have been severely affected by drought and the resulting food crisis.

A woman and child in Ethiopia

Malia Mele holds her 9-month-old baby boy in her arms as she awaits her monthly food ration. She says:

My son had severe malnutrition for one month.

With several government health clinics established throughout the drought-affected areas, mothers and their children have received monthly screening for malnutrition. Malia’s son was identified with severe acute malnutrition, for which he received treatment. Malia is currently reliant upon CARE and the government distributing essential supplies, as are other mothers and babies.

Two women weighing a baby

CARE’s healthcare worker Azeb Alemiyehu (above left) has been working in this area for the last six months. When asked how it feels to see mothers and children presenting at the clinic with malnutrition, Azeb says:

It’s hard. The drought has really affected women. I see them suffering most. I feel bad when I see their suffering.

A woman and baby in a health centre in Ethiopia

Fatima and her 9-month-old baby daughter are among 200 mothers being supported at this health centre. Her baby was acutely malnourished, but she is able to eat some Plumpy’nut – a peanut-based paste in a plastic wrapper, packed with vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrate.

A handful of Plumpy'Nut packets

Fatima is provided with 14 packs of Plumpy’Nut, as well as advice on preparing food in a nutritious way. Azeb also discusses family planning with Fatima, advising her to speak with her husband soon, as having another child at this time would put extra strain on her health and that of the baby.

A CARE health worker talking to a pregnant woman

Next Azeb speaks to Nooria Ibrahim, age 23. Nooria is nine months pregnant with her third child, but her belly isn’t as big as it should be. Azeb says:

You see, she is nine months pregnant and her stomach is so small.

Nooria, a young woman in Ethiopia

Like everyone in this area, Nooria doesn’t have enough to eat. Her husband farms maize but like everyone else, they are reliant upon CARE and the government to distribute food during this time of acute food insecurity.

CARE health worker in a health centre

Hiwot Miliyan, a healthcare worker supported by CARE, has worked at the community health centre in Alemdrom, eastern Ethiopia, for the past year. She says:

The past couple of months we have had serious drought. There have been many cases of malnutrition. Before the drought there was no need for therapeutic feeding.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.