By Uvedale Tristram
Christian missionaries of all denominations are helping the fight against famine in the drought stricken areas of Ethiopia. The drought, which is devastating the sub-Saharan countries of Africa, is now affecting nearly 2,000,000 people in five Northern provinces of Ethiopia, Tigre, Walla, Northern Shoa and Gondar.
A meeting summoned by the Ministry of Community Development resulted in the formation of a Christian Relief Fund to coordinate voluntary relief operations.
The Ethiopian Government says that the situation is rapidly getting worse; more people and more cattle are affected every day. An official report says: The scale of the problem has reached such proportions that prompt and adequate assistance is essential to meet the immediate needs in the famine stricken areas."
Fr. Kevin Doheny, Coordinator of Development of the Cheshire Homes Central Regional Council for Africa and Head of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat's social welfare department says: "I have spent a week in the distressed areas, and the situation is really grim, not merely in terms of present starvation but in terms of the future survival of the people in certain areas if the drought continues."
Discussing a survey which he had undertaken for C.R.F. with other Church leaders, Fr. Doheny said:
"The wholesale loss of livestock has so impoverished the nomadic people that it is doubtful whether they can survive at all without massive outside help.
"The position of the farmers is not quite so precarious but it is still critical; they are merely starving more slowly. Food, seed and help for ploughing are needed urgently."
In many places, cattle have died in their thousands and the villages are surrounded by their rotting carcases. Al Jewhua and Senhete, north of Addis Ababa and at Bade in the Wallo province, the land has turned to desert. Grass and crops have gone. Most of the cattle are dead and anthrax has come into Jewhua, taking its toll of the few remaining beasts.
Nomad Danakil in villages in the Yifat and Tinuga Awasa area, are starving because they are afraid to pass through territory occupied by hostile Calla tribesmen to go to Robi where a mission has set up a free grain distribution centre.
In the lowlands of northern Walks, there has been no rain for three years. The little town
of Alamatta is thronged with hungry people seeking help.
Government officials say that the death toll from starvation or from diseases aggravated by starvation is 712 a day.
The women and children are the most seriously affected.
Many have been left to fend for themselves because the men have gone in search of food and work, Thousands of children are suffering from the deficiency diseases Kwashiorkor and Marasmus.
Fr. Doheny, a Holy Ghost Father, has been appointed Coordinator of the Catholic relief operation throughout the drought areas with Fr. Agostino Galavotti of Asman University as his assistant.
The Adigrat seminary and the Filipini Sisters have set up a famine relief centre at Kobbo to assist Government with food distribution and man, mother and child clinics. The Daughters ,..of Charity have sent a nurse and a social worker to start a health programme.
The Capuchin Fathers have sent priests and novices from Dessie to re-open their Friary at Batie in order to provide relief services for the destitute nomad Danakils.
The Provincial Governor of Shoa has given special praise to Fr. Domenico O.F.M. (Cap.) for his work at Dessie. Fr. Doheny stresses that helF so far made availabfe is pitifully small. The C.R.F. are appealing for an immediate stepping up of food, clothing and medicine supplies. Seed grain is urgently required to prevent famine next year. More skilled people are needed — especially qualified nurses. A Food for Work programme would enable the men to stay at home with their families.
Farm diversification is essential so that smallholders can grow cash crops other than grain; rural industries are needed; other priorities include more irrigation, well digging, anti-erosion schemes, reafforestation, improved grain storage, assistance for cattle breeders and dairy farmers to improve the national herds and simple nutrition education on a much larger scale than has been possible so far.