Ethiopia counts the cost of East Africa's crisis

Its population is starving while the country takes in more Somali refugees

Since the food crisis began in the Horn of Africa, Somalia and Kenya have dominated the headlines. But more than a third of the nearly 13 million now going hungry in East Africa are in Ethiopia. With its own rural population facing starvation, the country is struggling to cope with a fresh influx of 78,000 refugees in seven months.

The newcomers are mainly women and children; many are so weak they die on arrival. In the past month, the health charity Merlin says it has witnessed more than 50 dying in the Gode area, near the border, having arrived too weak to be saved. Unlike in Kenya, where provision for refugees was initially adequate but has been overstretched for months, Ethiopia was little prepared for arrivals on such a scale.

At the beginning of March there were 38,000 refugees across two camps. Now the two original camps are at double their capacity, with 40,000 living in each. A third camp has filled within three weeks with more than 24,000 people, and now a fourth has been opened as a home for the 15,000 or so arriving from a makeshift centre near the border. Kristen Knutson, a public information officer for the UN in Ethiopia, said: "There was a much lower service provision in Ethiopia than Kenya. There wasn't much infrastructure in place; then suddenly you had this enormous increase in the number of refugees coming."

Roads are poor and getting aid into the camps is a struggle. In Kobe camp – one of four at Dolo Ado – the water supply has almost dried up as lorries battle across near impassable tracks. Now the water ration there – which is needed to do all washing, cooking and drinking – has gone from 10 litres per person a day to three. But there is some hope for supplies now. A cargo plane was sent from the UK by Oxfam and Unicef on Friday to bring five kilometres of piping to Dolo Ado, as well as emergency food and medical supplies.

On top of the physical difficulties involved in getting help to the hungry, the Ethiopian government has also obstructed foreign aid organisations. In recent years, regional licences and permits have been taken away from those who spoke out on hunger in the region, stopping urgent help in its tracks.

Charities say the country is sick of being portrayed as a "basket case" in the foreign media, which meant that until this year they could be stopped from operating if they chose to reveal the scale of the disaster.

The UN's Ms Knutson said: "This year, it's been a sign of the seriousness of the situation that the government has made it easier for agencies to open their operations."

Bereket Simon, Ethiopia's Minister of Communication, said he wanted the country's recent problems to be seen in the context of a growing economy over the past decade. But he admitted: "We see the reality as it is. There are 4.5 million in need of aid. We have been trying to respond promptly, as well as the international community, but we are aware response has been largely inadequate."

Today, the head of the African Union (AU), Dr Jean Ping, is expected to visit the camps in Liben. The AU will not meet for crisis talks on the situation for another 11 days. The urgently needed meeting was supposed to take place weeks ago, but leaders claimed that two weeks' notice was not enough.

More than half of the children under five who arrive at refugee camps in Liben are malnourished. Alice Gude, a nurse for Médecins sans Frontières, described the condition of the children who have been coming daily to one of the charity's clinics there. "The state they arrive in is shocking: you get used to seeing skinny children, but it gets me when they have the look of an old man's face, typical of marasmus [severe malnutrition]. The saddest thing is to hear the refugees' distress when they arrive and realise that the response is still slow in preparation for these arrivals."

Last weekend, the UN refugee agency announced a measles outbreak in the camps. The congestion there means that people are particularly vulnerable to communicable diseases; a situation made worse by immune systems weakened from malnutrition. A mass-vaccination programme has been started for all children under 15.

Many do not manage to get to Dolo Ado at all and are instead incapacitated just across the border, too weak to continue. The first people who crossed from Somalia into Morodile and Godere received old sacks, plastic sheets and rugs donated by the local community. The charity did not last long, though; now there are so many there that the majority are living out in the open with little protection from dust storms, scorching sun and cold nights.

Merlin has set up mobile clinics on the border to help the growing cases of malnutrition – not to mention other health problems made worse by overcrowding, a lack of proper toilets and sleeping out in the open.

Ethiopia's own people are also facing serious problems. Pastoralists whose livestock have died in the drought have left their homes to find help that has been hard to come by. Even in the towns and cities people cannot escape hunger, with food prices up more than 250 per cent.

On the surface, it is difficult to see why 119,000 Somalis have chosen to flee to a place like this. But a quick look across the border confirms why. Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, is where many of the rural starving who could not make it to Ethiopia or Kenya have flocked to. The city, already beset with conflict and unrest, is now facing a cholera epidemic. The World Heath Organisation said on Friday there had been more than 4,000 cases of diarrhoeal disease reported in the city's Banadir hospital this year, with children under five accounting for 75 per cent of cases.

It took Hadija Isaac Abdu more than a week to get her family safely across the border and out of Somalia. Their maize and sorghum crops had failed and their cattle had been decimated at their home in Qansah Dere. First they drove a car, but when it broke down they had to walk for seven days. By the time the 30-year-old arrived in Ethiopia with her husband, his first wife and all their children, her baby son was critically ill. "There was not enough food on our way, and the walking took so long. We didn't have any milk for him. He lost his appetite and he wouldn't eat any more."

Despite his high fever and severe malnutrition, Mrs Abdu's son is one of the luckier ones. He is being treated at a stabilisation centre in Kobe, one of four refugee camps now stretched beyond capacity in Dolo Ado.

If parents like Hadija Isaac Abdu do not get help in Ethiopia they have very few choices left. "I don't think we will be back in Somalia in the near future," said the mother. "In Somalia, there is nothing of what we need: a little bit of food and peace."

The IoS give a day's pay for Africa

Nearly 13 million people are at risk of dying from hunger in the Horn of Africa as a result of the worst drought in 60 years. Two million children under the age of five are malnourished and 500,000 are severely malnourished. The Independent on Sunday is asking readers, their friends and families to join its senior staff and each pledge one day's pay to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. High-profile figures from the worlds of politics, sport and the arts are backing us. Together, The Independent on Sunday and its sister title, The Independent, have so far raised more than £117,000. Thank you!

They joined – how about you?

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen Interior designer

"This devastating crisis can't be ignored. Jackie and I are pleased to support The Independent on Sunday's campaign. The level of suffering is beyond our imagination and it doesn't look as if this problem will go away soon."

Tony Blackburn DJ

"The problems last week are nothing compared with East Africa. I am happy to support what The Independent on Sunday is doing, and hope it will go some way to helping children."

Amir Khan World light welterweight boxing champion

"I'm a big supporter of Islamic Relief and all the Disasters Emergency Committee charities. This is the worst humanitarian crisis of my lifetime but the DEC charities have a huge amount of experience in these horrendous situations. They can save hundreds of thousands of lives in East Africa if we give them the support they need."

Jackie Kay Poet

"It's shocking that we have let things get to this stage when there was plenty of warning. Twenty years ago, we had terrible famine in Africa and we should have learnt the lessons. It's horrifying that every six minutes a child is dying. To me, it's the biggest thing happening but it's not getting the most attention."

Jonathan Agnew, BBC Test Match Special presenter; Tom Aikens, chef; Heidi Alexander MP; David Arnold, composer; Lord Avebury; Willie Bain MP; Tristan Baker, theatre producer, The Railway Children; Elena Baltacha, British No 1 women's tennis player; Greg Barker MP, energy minister; Tony Blackburn, DJ; Lauren Booth, Tony Blair's sister-in-law; Sir Peter Bottomley MP; Chris Bryant MP; Richard Burden MP; Rev Stuart Burgess, chairman, Commission for Rural Communities; Paul Burstow MP, health minister; Vince Cable, Business Secretary; Alastair Campbell, former No 10 communications chief; Nathan Cleverly, WBO light-heavyweight champion boxer; Max Clifford, PR consultant; Mary Creagh MP; Sarah Darwin, great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin; Richard Dawkins, biologist; James DeGale, boxer, Olympic middleweight champion; Esi Edugyan, author; Rev Jonathan Edwards, general secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain; Yvette Edwards, author; Moira Elms, global partner at PwC; Mo Farah, athlete; Tim Farron MP, Lib Dem president; Andrew George MP; Helen Goodman MP; A C Grayling, philosopher; Kate Green MP; Bonnie Greer, author/playwright; Olly Grender, Lib Dem pundit; Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader; Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill; Baroness Hughes of Stretford; Howard Jacobson, author; Cathy Jamieson MP; Jackie Kay, poet; Barbara Keeley MP; Stephen Kelman, author; Amir Khan, boxer; Jemima Khan, campaigner; Lord Knight of Weymouth; Derek Laud, New City Initiative; Andrea Leadsom, MP; Helen Lederer, comedian; Annie Lennox, musician; Jackie and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, interior designer; Stephen Lloyd MP; Tony Lloyd MP, chairman, Parliamentary Labour Party; Josie Long, comedian; Naomi Long MP; Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green Party; John McDonnell MP; Ian Mearns MP; A D Miller, author; Nadifa Mohamed, author; Penny Mordaunt MP; Ian Murray MP; Sheryll Murray MP; Pamela Nash MP; Sarah Newton MP; Fiona O'Donnell MP; Brian Paddick, ex-Met officer; Neil Parish MP; Alan Pascoe, former athlete; Lord Naren Patel; Lord Phillips of Sudbury; Alison Pick, author; Daniel Pinto, chairman of Stanhope Capital; Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford; Hugh Quarshie, actor; Doug Richard, original Dragon's Den panellist; Kate Robertson, UK group chairman of advertising firm Euro RSCG; Mark Robinson, co-founder of Sandlanders Football; Jane Rogers, author; Linda Rolph, general secretary, Advance union; Amber Rudd MP; Stuart Semple, artist; Lord Shipley; Andrew Slaughter MP; Julian Smith MP; Caroline Spelman MP, Environment Secretary; Michelle Stanistreet, National Union of Journalists general secretary; Juliet Stevenson, actress; Rt Revd Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich; D J Taylor, author; Lord Taylor of Goss Moor; Glenn Tilbrook, musician; Keith Vaz MP; Frank Warren, boxing promoter; Graham Watson MEP.

Join up – and help the starving

To join our 'Give a day's pay for Africa' campaign, go to All donations are welcome – to give £5, enough to buy high-energy food supplements to save five children a day, text INDY to 70000. And spread the word on Twitter using the hashtag #Giveadayspay

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fund, London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fu...

Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Multicast, Low Latency

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Mul...

Network Infrastructure Engineer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Infrastructure Engineer (...

Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Multicast)

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Mult...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition