(VOA) METAHARA DISTRICT, ETHIOPIA— Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades. Its crops failed last year, contributing to food shortages affecting at least 10 million of the east African country’s 99 million people.
Approximately 6 million of them are children, and they’re especially vulnerable to disease, hunger and thirst, according to UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s fund. It estimates 435,000 of them risk acute malnutrition.
Beriti Hawas brought her malnourished 3-year-old child to a clinic in central district of Metahara district, saying, “My baby got sick because there is no food.”
Malnutrition is especially problematic for children, because it can slow or halt brain development and thinking abilities, explained Samuel Terfa of the nongovernmental organization Child Fund. He said it also could have immediate consequences, such as aggravating diarrhea.
Child Fund is among the humanitarian organizations helping the Ethiopian government to supply food. Over $800 million in emergency funding has been provided, but Ethiopia’s government and the United Nations estimate a total of $1.4 billion is needed this year. The bulk of the money is to provide food.
Only by receiving aid can Alko Bultum can feed her six children.
“Because of the drought, we have nothing except the government’s support,” she said, adding, “We have nothing at home. We have nothing to feed our children. We don’t have drinking water.”
Food aid will be needed into 2017 in Ethiopia and in other drought-stricken parts of eastern and southern Africa, experts say. The poor conditions are believed to be caused by the periodic weather phenomenon El Nino.