Ethiopia: the elderly have stopped eating

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In southernmost Ethiopia, where life is a struggle for survival, old people are forfeiting their right to food in order that the precious little that remains goes to the children.

One elderly man, Huka Wako Harralo, has always been healthy and sound but is now gaunt, emaciated and dying of hunger. His internal organs are quietly shutting down.

Tradition dictates that when food is scare, the elderly stop eating and give what remains to the children.

“This means a lot of old people have already died and that the elderly are left starved out,” says Mikael Bjerrum, a hunger and food security expert at Dan Church Aid, an ACT Alliance member.

Bjerrum met Harralo on his trip to the area to find out how many people urgently need food and water.

Last cow dying of hunger
Harralo has lived through drought before but never anything as severe as this. When life smiled at him, he was the proud owner of 40 cows. But now the family's last cow is dying of hunger. Harralo has left it alone to die in peace. All the other cows in the village are already dead. About 200,000 cows have died of thirst and hunger in this region alone. Some animals were sold to raise money for food.

Harralo has only two goats, two calves and a donkey left alive. Villagers are trying to save the animals by giving them dry grass that normally serves as roofing material for huts.

Small children not getting enough breast milk
Even small children are badly affected. Mothers have too little milk of too poor a quality to feed them. “If small children do not get enough nutrition, the brain does not grow properly. Their IQ is expected to be 15 to 20 per cent lower than it would otherwise have been. Therefore, we try to give extra nutritious food to the smallest babies and to lactating and pregnant women.”

The village has so far received only minimal amounts of food from the government, not nearly enough to reduce their desperate. “There are 45,000 people here in the area, all are in urgent need of help but not and not getting any,” Bjerrum says.

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