It's "Green Hunger"

It's "Green Hunger"

 

Addis Tribune, June 23, 20000

 By a Special Correspondent

 

The World Health Organization has warned international and national agencies involved in food and health aid to the

drought-stricken zones of Ethiopia not to be deceived by the new green appearance of the land.

 

"A traveler may see green land, but the paradox is people are still dying from malnutrition and the simple preventable diseases it

causes because they cannot yet eat the young crops in the fields," says Dr Michel Jancloes, WHO Head of Mission in Ethiopia.

"It's a cruel and dangerous paradox - it's 'green hunger' ".

 

The arrival of sporadic rains in the past two month has covered much of the pastures with a patina of vivid green, and the

hillsides and lowlands are sprouting young sweet corn plants, flowering sweet potatoes and fragile cereal grass.

 

But a WHO field mission to North Omo last week found over 50% of the people in the district's most drought-stricken areas

have nothing left in their pots and baskets. And they will continue to have nothing for three more long months until, weather

permitting, the crops ripen.

 

This zone is not only suffering from the effects of three years of poor rainfall plus three consecutive pest-induced failures of the

staple sweet potato crop which traditionally wards off the hunger gap between seasons, but also the consequences of having

one of the highest population densities in Ethiopia, which leaves most households with less than half a hectare from which to

feed themselves.

 

In Damot Weyde, a nutrition survey, carried out by international NGO Concern together with local NGO Wontta in mid-April,

found global malnutrition of children under five at 26%.

 

Researchers also witness the disease consequences of hunger. They found over 75% of the children had been ill, either with

fever or with diarrhoea in the week before the survey and 11 children died in the four days it took to carry out the research.

 

Only 6% of the 179,000 population of Damot Weyde is currently using their own harvest and two-thirds of families are

consuming only ensette, the false banana' root that is starchy but nutritionally poor.

 

Concern are now running three therapeutic feeding centers in the woreda and distributing general and supplementary rations.

But other wordea are not so lucky.

 

Visiting the farming community of Sore Mashido in nearby Bolosso woreda earlier this, week WHO found families without

even false banana left who are reduced to boiling grass, mildly narcotic weeds and toxic tree leaves for their children.

 

In the nearby community of Buge Wanchi, the community head said 68 people, predominantly children under five, have died of

starvation in the past month and three to four people are dying every day.

 

Food distribution has been slow to arrive in North Omo, partly due to the focus on the 'grey' hunger of the Ogaden.

 

But while food is an obvious priority, circumstances such as those in North Omo clearly show that improved access to

healthcare and effective systems of prevention such as nutritional and communicable disease surveillance and rapid treatment

are crucial to survival.

 

"You can't put malnutrition on its own," says WHO adviser, Dr Tefarra Wonde. "Diseases cause malnutrition and malnutrition

causes disease. It's a terrible synergy."

 

WHO believes the development of these services is urgent and must run alongside food distribution. The agency will run an

emergency updating and training course in surveillance and management of epidemic diseases for health officers from the

drought-affected zones in mid-July.