HelpAge calls for urgent support for drought-affected older people in Ethiopia

Over the last few months a crisis has been unfolding in many parts of East Africa. Thousands of communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia - around 10 million people - are facing the worst drought since the 1950s. 

HelpAge and sister organization Age UK are participating in a Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal being launched in the area. 

We estimate in Ethiopia alone, 3.2 million people require humanitarian assistance. The severe food crisis has forced many working-age adults to leave the countryside and head to camps for displaced people to find food, or to the cities in a desperate search for work.

On top of that a devastating drought means people and livestock are dying. Poor rains mean people are unable to plant crops and feed themselves. Their livestock are unable to graze.

During previous droughts, farmers were able to sell their livestock in order to buy food in the local markets. But now in Borena zone alone, nearly 250,000 livestock have already died due to lack of pasture or exhaustion.

Severely malnourished and dehydrated, most cows and goats are no longer producing milk. Older farmers cannot rely on their livestock to feed themselves and their families.

Older people are left behind

The most vulnerable, older people and small children are often left behind as they are unable to flee quickly.

In some rural Ethiopian communities the older population now account for 30-50% - a shocking rise from the national average of 5%.

We are currently funding a project in Borena, providing emergency aid to an estimated 32,000 people.

We are now also working with the Disaster Emergency Committee to provide emergency relief to a further 20,000 households, approximately 140,000 people.

We will distribute food, water and healthcare to older people and their families, as well as water, animal feed and veterinary care for livestock.

Alison Rusinow, Country Programme Director for HelpAge International in Ethiopia, said: "There is no question about it, this is a severe food crisis.

"We know of communities where half the population are now comprised of older people who are struggling to survive, and in many cases trying to feed their grandchildren.

"We know these older people are likely to be more malnourished as they feed younger family members before themselves.

"Our current work is providing support, such as emergency livestock feed, free distribution of fresh meat to the most affected households, as well as cash-for-work schemes to rehabilitate vital water and sanitation services.

"The task ahead is immense and we hope this goes some way to addressing the acute need. But more needs to be done and more funding will be needed for us to extend this work."

Increasing food and fuel prices

Ethiopians are also facing increased food and fuel prices. In Addis Ababa, one kilo of porridge cost five Ethiopian birr in 2008. It now costs 11 (GBP0.40 or US$0.65). Rice which three years ago cost six birrs per kilo, now costs 15 (GBP0.55 or US$0.88).

Richard Blewitt, Chief Executive of HelpAge International, says:

"HelpAge International and its partners, including Age UK, will be specifically targeting older people in this emergency response. We will also be calling on other humanitarian agencies to ensure that older people are included in their needs assessments and emergency interventions."

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