Food crisis in Ethiopia is growing as world's attention turns to Ukraine: Sask.-born aid worker

·3 min read
Severe drought killed livestock in the Somali region of Ethiopia. (©WFP/Michael Tewelde - image credit)
Severe drought killed livestock in the Somali region of Ethiopia. (©WFP/Michael Tewelde - image credit)

A woman who grew up in Saskatoon has been on the ground, witnessing a growing food crisis in Ethiopia.

Millions of Ethiopians continue to suffer from a food crisis as a drought grips the country.

At the same time, a conflict in the embattled northern Tigray region is making things even worse for the nation in the Horn of Africa.

Adrienne Bolen from Saskatoon has spent the past year and a half in Ethiopia working as a communications officer with the UN World Food Programme.

"The population in the north of the country, [we're seeing] mass displacement from the conflict and close to 10 million people are in need of emergency food assistance," Bolen said.

"In the south of the country, extreme drought that's partly caused caused by climate change has pushed seven million people in need of assistance as well, so we're waiting for the rains to materialize. But if they don't, the situation could get much worse."

People are exhausted. I mean, all of their livelihoods have been devastated, and they're resorting to any means that they can just just to stay alive. So it's very extreme to see it play out. - Adrienne Bolen

Seeing the impact of climate change has affected her, Bolen says.

"We think about it as a far away issue," she said. "We don't see the impacts of it in Saskatchewan, maybe, as close up, but it's close by and it's happening in Ethiopia."

Bolen says the food crisis in Ethiopia is reminiscent of the Great Depression, except in this case there is no end in sight.

"People are exhausted," she said. "I mean, all of their livelihoods have been devastated, and they're resorting to any means that they can just just to stay alive. So it's very extreme to see it play out."

To illustrate the desperation in the country, Bolen described the situation of a woman she met whose house is made of clay and straw. The straw had been put on the roof decades earlier by her parents, and now she was removing it to feed her cattle because "those cattle are everything to her. If she loses that livelihood, they have nothing left. And so they're literally taking their houses apart to feed people and feed animals."

Submitted by Adrienne Bolen
Submitted by Adrienne Bolen

Loss of funding

The UN World Food Programme (UNWFP) helps Ethiopians by delivering relief, food assistance or food baskets, micro insurance programs and nutritional support programs. However, funding for these programs has decreased because global attention has turned away from Ethiopia recently.

"A lot of attention and funding is going to the Ukraine crisis, which it should be. It's a devastating situation there as well, but we're losing funding to our operation," Bolen said.

In addition, Bolen says, about 70 per cent of the wheat the UNWFP had been importing to deliver in its food baskets has been coming from Ukraine and Russia.

"So we're losing our source of grain and our funding," she said. "So we're having to greatly adapt our programming and I'm sure we'll have to in the coming months as well."

The UNWFP is adapting its program by accessing in-country stock reserves.

"But we're going to have to be sourcing from other parts of the country," Bolen said. "We'll have to be changing our our food rations so that maybe they have less wheat and more of other kinds of grains or cereals."

Seeing the crisis in Ethiopia has affected her outlook, Bolen said: "I think it gives you a greater perspective of what humans can endure."

Bolen says increased attention needs to be focused on Ethiopia, whether it's through advocacy or social media. She said donations are needed.

"If you donate to humanitarian organizations under tax donations, the government pays attention to that, and then they see what citizens want to dedicate resources to," Bolen said. "I think Canadians can reach out to their [members of Parliament] and to the government — let them know that this is an important issue and and every little bit counts."

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