Starving families in drought-stricken Ethiopia are so desperate for food they are eating seeds meant for their next harvest, it was revealed today.
Humanitarian workers believe that even if summer rains arrive, many will have nothing to plant for future food supplies. The food crisis in parts of the country is critical, with some people too weak to walk to rural health clinics for help, according to aid agencies on the ground. Aine Fay, Concern’s country director in Ethiopia, said staff were being forced to reject sick children who were evidently malnourished. “There are around 100 malnourished children arriving at the clinics each day, but we currently do not have the capacity to treat all of them,” she said. “There are many children so malnourished they are too weak to eat. “Some people who have arrived at the clinics spoke of people still at home in their villages who did not have the energy to carry their children to feeding centres.” In 1984 the plight of millions of people starving to death in northern areas of the African state first hit the international headlines. More than 20 years on, a food crisis worse than the infamous famine which sparked Band Aid could be about to hit the south of the country. The Horn of Africa region has had the worst drought in years while the price of staple foodstuffs such as rice, wheat and maize has doubled in recent months due to spiralling global oil prices. The summer rains are due, but even if they arrive the current batch of seeds will not grow into crops until August or September. Some families have even been forced to eat seeds they should be planting for the next harvest. It is feared the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance will be among the highest on record and that food riots could break out in poor communities as families battle to stay alive. Concern, Ireland’s largest non-governmental organisation, has been in Ethiopia since 1984 and its staff are currently supporting the Ministry of Health at clinics in the SNNP region managing acute malnutrition. Some 1,500 children and pregnant and lactating women in dire need of help are walking for miles to visit the food centres, and that figure is set to double in the coming weeks. The aid agency has launched an emergency appeal campaign to raise at least €2 million to scale up its operations and help to avert a humanitarian crisis. Ms Fay said when food shortages started to affect families it was the mothers who stopped eating first, then the older girls, and if there was still a shortfall the fathers would stop eating to ensure that the young children and elderly had food to eat. Concern said it urgently needed funds for supplementary food as well as intravenous drugs to treat children who were too weak to eat and needed in-patient drip feeding. Donations would also provide seeds and tools to farmers who are relying on the summer rains. PA