El Niño Has Created A Frightening Crisis For Ethiopia's Children

07/14/2016 11:12 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 11:59 EDT
Irada Humbatova / Reuters
Densa Tadicha, 10, collects water from a pond used by animals at El-Ley village in the drought affected region of Moyale June 12, 2009. The consumption of contaminated water from shallow wells and ponds meant for cattle, poor nutrition and unsafe hygiene practices have led to an outbreak of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) which has left 25 people dead and 1,300 needing emergency medical care in the Moyale region of Ethiopia and Kenya, home to some half a million people. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says it needs some 100 million Swiss francs to prevent conflict, famine and epidemics as well as restore the livelihoods of 2.5 million people in the Horn of Africa. Picture taken June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Irada Humbatova (ETHIOPIA SOCIETY CONFLICT IMAGES OF THE DAY HEALTH)

Imagine having to walk hours for a drop of water. For many Ethiopians, this is a reality. The El Niño weather pattern has caused a drought, leaving people without access to safe, clean drinking water. More than half of rural households in Ethiopia cannot easily access this life source. Malnourished children are unable to go to school or play, instead they must walk kilometres to the nearest well, fill a jug and walk back home burdened by its weight.

The effort many children in Ethiopia put forth to access even the most basic of life's necessities is heartbreaking. Drought is also forcing families to migrate in search of food, making them vulnerable to dangerous situations, including exploitation and displacement.

The El Niño-induced drought has created a crisis that is becoming more serious with every day. Having travelled to Ethiopia earlier this year, I've seen the severity of the situation firsthand.

While the Government of Ethiopia is doing all it can, the need is now overwhelming. It has confirmed that the number of people affected by the drought exceeds 10 million. That is equal to the populations of Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Halifax and St. John's, N.L. combined. The United Nations estimates that close to a half a million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Generations are at risk.

Hundreds of thousands of herd animals have perished in the drought, so less milk is available. Children under the age of five and nursing mothers are the worst affected. In fact, one in four children is already underweight, and an estimated 350,000 babies have been born in the last six months.

The Canadian government is committed to international development efforts in Ethiopia, as the fifth-largest bilateral donor. To minimize interruption during the crisis, Christian Children's Fund of Canada's (CCFC's) in-country teams have been supporting children and families in the affected communities by providing four rounds of wheat, pulses and oil to 2,400 people. We have also contributed books and other educational materials to 25 drought-affected elementary schools, supporting 3,800 students as well as given 13 elementary teachers grants equivalent to seven months of pay so learning can continue. With the recent rainfalls, 864 farmers are being provided with wheat and bean seeds, the mainstay for 4,000 community members.

As of June 22, the Ethiopian Government and donors have contributed more than US$1 billion towards the US$1.52 billion Ethiopia needs, leaving a critical funding gap. There's a need for seeds, agricultural products for the approaching crop season and vaccination and veterinary services for the remaining livestock.

The need for support is urgent and helping children survive is our main concern. Canada has played a leadership role in international development and Canadians have always been known to provide relief in humanitarian crises. To learn how you can make a difference, click here.

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Through Your Lens: Ethiopia