Even during what should have been the rainy season this summer, rural families struggled to find pasture for their herds outside Jijiga in eastern Ethiopia. Ethiopia is enduring its worst drought in 60 years. Photo by Michael Swan.

Catholic agencies plead for help as Ethiopian drought crisis worsens

  • January 6, 2016

As the worst Ethiopian drought in 60 years threatens as many as 20 million people living in more than half of Africa’s second largest country, Catholic aid agencies in the desperate nation are asking for help as the crisis continues into 2016.

“We can do more if more resources are available,” CST-Together country representative Patricia Wall said in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “The needs are enormous.”

CST-Together stands for Catholic Social Teaching Together and is a joint project of three Catholic aid agencies in Ethiopia — Ireland’s Trócaire, Scotland’s SCIAF and England’s CAFOD. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace frequently co-operates with CST-Together on development projects.

The Catholic Register reported on the drought from Ethiopia in September, as the crisis began to take hold. At that point farmers were selling livestock at cut-rate prices before the pasture ran out completely. By December there were “at least 10 million people who need urgent support,” said Wall.

Ethiopian and United Nations officials expect that number will grow to 20 million by spring. One of the strongest El Nino effects ever recorded is blamed for an almost total failure of spring and fall rains in Ethiopia.

The worldwide Caritas network launched an appeal for 1.5 million Euros ($2.3 million) in August. Canada’s representative in the Caritas network has so far responded with two new emergency relief projects. Development and Peace is contributing $130,000 to help 1,400 families in the Tigray region get enough food. The project will also help family farms with water and soil conservation efforts.

Development and Peace has sent another $200,000 to Caritas Ethiopia to deliver food, water and basic health care to 98,500 families.

There are now 429 districts or counties in Ethiopia, over half the country, classified as hot spots in the government’s drought-monitoring program, said Wall. The scale of the drought has thrown development agencies off their long-term plans.

“All development and humanitarian actors in Ethiopia, including ourselves, are asked to prioritize responding to the crisis,” Wall said.

The Ethiopian Catholic Church, which represents less than one per cent of the majority Christian nation, has set up an emergency task force. The scale of the drought will require international aid, Wall said.

The Canadian government has donated $30 million in emergency humanitarian assistance. International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced the emergency funding while attending an international donor-country meeting in Japan Dec. 17.

The bulk of Canada’s contribution, $21.5 million, will go to the United Nations World Food Program. The remainder is split between UNICEF, CARE Canada, Concern Worldwide, World Vision and Doctors Without Borders.

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