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Ethiopian mothers struggle to feed their children amidst drought crisis

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1251/Ose
Monegbosh breastfeeds her 18-month-old son, Zerihun, at their home in Odoleka Village, Oromia Region. Drought and failed crops have left Montegbosh’s family hungry.

By Malene Kamp Jensen

ODOLEKA, Ethiopia, 10 August 2011 – In a small farming community just outside the capital of Addis Ababa, Montegbosh nurses her 18-month-old son. Like many young mothers in this drought-inflicted country, she is opting to nurse longer - she simply has nothing else to feed her toddler.
A shared concern

Montegbosh says she resorts exclusively to breastfeeding, to ensure that her son, Zerihun, will receive nutrients to grow, even if she herself relies on a diet of what is known as enset - commonly referred to as ‘false banana’ - whose edible root helps to trick an empty stomach into feeling full.

Although the green land around her looks lush, failed rains have meant failed crops, and Montegbosh worries about what the future will hold for her young children - a concern shared by hundreds of thousands of others in farm communities across the country.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1256/Ose
Health worker unpacks ready-to-eat therapeutic food at a health centre in Odoleka Village, Oromia Region. The food was supplied by UNICEF to treat malnourished children in the village.

A few days ago, just as things couldn’t get much worse, the community pump broke down. Now Montegbosh and the rest of the families around her are forced to drink muddied water from a nearby creek. 

‘Stretched to the limit'

Although far from the grim reality of the starving Somalians who continue to flee areas of famine and conflict, Ethiopia is dealing with the largest number of people who are going hungry in the Horn of Africa. 

Malnutrition among children has grown and some 4.56 million Ethiopians – around the same number as the entire population of Ireland – are in need of emergency food due to a combination of drought, soaring food prices and a safety net that is being stretched to the limit. Of these, some 652,500 are children under the age of five.  

In June alone, 37 children from the district of Soddo Dachi were treated for malnutrition. A nearby UNICEF-supported health post has helped several children from the community, in part by providing ready-to-use therapeutic food supplied by UNICEF in support of the Government’s work of putting safety nets in place. The most dire and complicated cases are referred to a nearby hospital as a standard procedure.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1253/Ose
Montegbosh carries her 18-month-old son, Zerihun, as she collects water from a creek in Odoleka Village, Oromia Region. The village pump broke several days ago and villagers are now forced to use muddy water from the nearby creek for drinking and cooking.

Imminent crisis

“This is not normal,” exclaimed Gurara Bekel, a community health worker, in reference to the many cases of malnutrition he’s witnessed this past June. He especially fears that the children will contract diarrhea from the drinking dirty water.

Pointing to the sky, Kaba, who is in her 70s, wearily sighed: “This is the worst drought I remember.”

She is now pinning her hopes on two granddaughters who are staying with her after their parents have died. Both girls, Buze, 12 and Yenenesh, 16, say they want to become doctors. They attend a nearby school but fear that if the rains do not return in a predictable pattern, the harvest will continue to fail and their dreams could be cut short. 

“We have no money, so sometimes we have to work for food,” explained Yenenesh. “I worry about how to feed my grandmother but I will still try to continue to go to class and follow my goal.”



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