Help crucial as drought threatens lives in Ethiopia and Kenya - Christian Aid's Nick Georgiadis

I watched as a village elder struggled to stand up to speak: “We need help, we’ve lost everything, and we don’t know what to do”.

He explained that his brother elders had all died, and that without help, the rest of them wouldn’t survive.

I travelled to Ethiopia which is currently experiencing its worst drought in 40 years.

Near the Kenya border in South Omo, Christian Aid’s local partner Action For Development is embedded in the Dasenach community.

A farmer plows land near Geha subcity on June 16, 2021 in Mekele, Ethiopia. Drought conditions, months of armed conflict and the destruction of crops due to the locust infestation in 2020 have led to increased food insecurity and overall hardship in the region. Picture: Jemal Countess/Getty Images.

Arriving there, the disappointment on the residents’ faces was clear.

I represented a humanitarian agency, but I was not there to distribute supplies. Without crops and with livestock dead or emaciated, the people were desperate.

The figures are huge: 18.4 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are not getting enough to eat. The whole of the Horn of Africa is facing the danger of famine.

But seeing the stark reality of what it means to live with this daily threat, meeting people fighting to survive, spurs me to join others in raising the alarm. The community was glad to see someone visiting them; they hadn’t been forgotten, but their plea was for me to elevate their plight. People are dying from hunger, and we need to act now to prevent more deaths. This community’s story is just a microcosm of what is happening across the region.

What I heard time and time again during my visit was that droughts used to come every 10 to 15 years.

People could cope with this, knowing it was one year of failed rains but now, the droughts are coming every year.

For the first time there have been four back-to-back failed rainy seasons. People are simply unable to get back on their feet and although they are resilient, they can’t catch a break. These worsening droughts are an obvious symptom of climate change – to which the people in South Omo did little to contribute.

Combine that with Covid, a locust infestation, and now the war in Ukraine driving up food prices, and a bad situation is developing into a disaster.

People need immediate emergency assistance, but it was needed yesterday.

The UK Government has recently announced a package of support to help countries hit hardest by rising global food prices, but this is not new funding and was already in the pipeline.

What we need is for all money earmarked for humanitarian response and development to be frontloaded now to save lives. And our partners are ready to deliver the aid, but they are frustrated with the lack of urgency.

“Can the world not see what is going on here?” they ask me.

What Christian Aid provides through them just isn’t enough.

We give each household the equivalent of $30. But when that household is supporting a large extended family and the price of grain is sky rocketing, they can’t afford even the minimum supplies.

Has the world forgotten them? Or can we raise the alarm so loud that the international community has no choice but to act now? We’ve launched an emergency East Africa Hunger Crisis appeal to help communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan.

Money raised will help people like those I met in South Omo. Now we need action from governments, donations from the public and the eyes of the world need to turn to this humanitarian crisis before it’s too late.

Christian Aid is responding to the drought in Ethiopia and Kenya and helping over 300,000 people by:

- Repairing wells

- Handing out water purification kits

- Providing cash support

- Trucking water to drought-affected communities

- Providing fodder and medicine to keep valuable livestock alive

As Karimi Kinoti, who is based in Kenya and is Christian Aid’s interim policy, public affairs and campaigns director, says: “The response to humanitarian needs in Ukraine has been remarkable. The UK Government must now live up to its moral responsibility and urgently act in that same spirit for East Africa. Every day that we delay will make it more difficult to avoid tragedy.

“Ministers must speed up the delivery of funding that has already been promised, reverse cuts to international aid and ensure all humanitarian and development funding supports local actors who are best placed to respond quickly.”

- Nick Georgiadis is director of fundraising and supporter engagement at Christian Aid, which has launched an East Africa Hunger Crisis appeal.