CAFOD’s World News Manager, Nana Anto-Awuakye has returned from Ethiopia where 10 million people currently face extreme hunger. She visited CAFOD’s partner the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, based in the capital Addis Ababa, and met with Shiferaw Mamo, the Humanitarian Programme Coordinator. He spoke to her about the role of the Church in tackling the devastating effects of the worst drought the country has seen in 30 years.
Pinned to the walls of Shiferaw Mamo’s office is a large map of Ethiopia with map pins marking the regions that have been hit hardest by Ethiopia’s severe drought.
The map shows nature’s randomness, with some regions classed as level 1, meaning minimal food intervention, while other regions like Tigray are level 4: Emergency.
There’s another poster pinned behind Shiferaw’s office door which simple states: “FAITH, ACTION, RESULTS” in bold letters. This sums up the commitment and expertise of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia:
“We are small in number [Catholic Church], but we are everywhere, throughout the country, from North to South”, says Shiferaw Mamo, Humanitarian Coordinator for the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat.
“We have a history of responding to emergencies be it conflict or drought, and the people know that we are there on the frontline, seeing to their needs.”
Alarm as the number of people affected by drought rose rapidly
Shiferaw and his team have been coordinating the work of the emergency response to the country’s drought, working through the Catholic Church networks across the country and in partnership with Caritas Internationalis partners, including CAFOD, Trocaire and SCIAF.
He has watched with growing alarm as the numbers of people in need of food just kept rising.
“It started with 2.5 million, then 4.5 million, 8.2 million and now we are at more than 10 million. The numbers today are alarming.”
The drought is a result of two failed consecutive rainy seasons, exacerbated by one of the strongest El Ñino weather patterns on record. Normal rains would feed between 80 to 85 per cent of the country between June and September.
The Ethiopian Catholic Church and its Caritas partners at the helm of the drought response
People have now lost their ability to cope as they struggle to feed their families and animals. The drought has also greatly increased malnutrition rates across the country.
Shiferaw says that the Church is able to respond effectively because of the ‘good collaboration’ with national and international Catholic agencies.
“We are able to do this work because we come together with our Caritas brothers and sisters and work together.
“The sharing of skills expertise; the solidarity shown towards us, gives us the ability to reach affected communities in the greatest need.
“Together with the Caritas Network we have one goal; the immediate and continuous emergency response needed to save lives.”
The effects of a changing climate must be tackled
Shiferaw makes reference to Pope Francis’s Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, when reflecting on El Ñino and its impact:
“Pope Francis has instructed us, he has called on us to take care of our planet.
“The situation will just get worst if we don’t stop to think about the severity of climate change.”
In answer to the question, ‘Ethiopia is always prone to drought, why should we give, and what difference will it make?’ Shiferaw makes it clear:
‘We must save lives’.
“Whatever anyone is able to give; £5, £20 or £100, they must know that they are saving lives; whatever they are able to give, changes a life.
“Our partners have saved lives this is what I have witnessed.”
Shiferaw’s message to the Catholic Community of England and Wales was to ask for their prayers and continued support.
“The faith community brings momentum; together we are able to make a difference.
“In advance, I thank the Catholic Community of England and Wales, for walking alongside us, and for their compassion, support and solidarity.”