Berida Jateni, 40, appears worried and gaunt and much older than her years. Sitting next to her hut in drought-ravaged Borena near the Kenya border she laments the impact of the drought that is threatening to destroy her pastoralist way of life. Report by Indrias Getachew. BORENA, Ethiopia, 24 August 2011.
VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on efforts to help Ethiopian families that have lost everything due to the drought. Watch in RealPlayer
Decaying carcasses of fallen cattle bear witness to the tragedy that has befallen Borena since the last decent rains fell over two years ago. Consecutive seasons of failed rains have decimated the prized cattle herds upon which the largely pastoralist Borena depend for their livelihoods. Able-bodied men in the worst-off areas near the border with Kenya have moved north in search of water and pasture with the surviving cattle.
The loss of their livestock has removed a critical source of income and nutrition for the Borena with particular impact on children. Berida’s youngest daughter, 10-month-old Firdoze Liben, was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition two weeks ago, a condition that is deadly if untreated.
“Firdoze used to drink cow’s milk but now we don’t have any because all the cows died,” said Berida.
Health Extension Workers Kalkidan Yimam and Chaltu Tesfaye walked through the parched landscape on their way to visit the severely malnourished children who are enrolled in the Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding Programme (OTP) that they run from the Meleb Village Health Post. Their first stop was at the home of Berida and Firdoze.
Health workers saving lives
The impact of the drought on the health and nutritional status of the community is plain to see. It is a rail-thin Berida who emerged from her hut, carrying baby Firdoze. But thankfully some help has arrived.
“This is a largely pastoral community and they make their living and raise their children by selling milk and by feeding the children milk,” said Kalkidan Yimam. “But now, because the cattle have died, they don’t have anything to give their children and as a result the children are suffering.”
Kalkidan explained that they came across Firdoze when going from house-to-house to check on the children and screen for malnutrition. Using a specialized measuring tape around the arm of the little girl, they determined that she was severely malnourished and asked her mother to bring her to the health post. When she arrived, Firdoze weighed 5.7 kilograms.
“She was in really bad condition,” said Kalkidan, which is why they followed the protocol for admission and started giving the little girl ready to use therapeutic food. “She is doing well and her weight is going up,” said Kalkidan, proudly noting that she now weighs 6.4 kilograms just two weeks after the start of the treatment.
Reaching the most vulnerable
Kalkidan and Chaltu have both been trained to treat severely malnourished children though the UNICEF-supported OTP, which is part of the Government’s flagship Health Extension Programme to provide basic integrated health, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation services to its rural population.
Over 16,000 health posts staffed by two trained health extension workers like Kalkidan, are operating in the country. Since 2008 UNICEF has supported the training and provision of supplies for these health extension workers in OTP, enabling them to provide the life-saving service at the community level in close to 8,800 sites.
This impressive surge in national capacity to respond to malnutrition is ensuring timely and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia during this time of crisis, thereby mitigating the worst impact of the prolonged drought on children, who are the most vulnerable and the first to succumb to malnutrition.
More resources needed
But with the worst drought in recent memory, the system is stretched and UNICEF is urgently seeking additional resources to ensure that health extension workers like Kalkidan can continue their life-saving work.
UNICEF and partners are supporting the Government of Ethiopia to respond to the immediate needs of drought-affected communities including in Borena. This will need to include support to diversify livelihoods as well to help recover from the drought.