Today in Ethiopia, a crisis is emerging. It is one that threatens access to clean water and food security for millions of people -- many of them children. In fact, international experts believe the scale of this emergency, and its humanitarian impact, will far exceed that of the current Syrian refugee crisis. Without immediate intervention, countless innocent lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.
The crisis has been precipitated by Ethiopia’s worst drought in almost 60 years, according to the United Nations. More than 80 percent of the country’s crops have failed. Cows, goats and other livestock are dying. In addition to the rampant food shortages this has caused, more than 85 percent of the country’s workforce have lost jobs working the fields. With no means of income, these workers can no longer support themselves or their families.
Already, more than 400,000 children are severely and acutely malnourished. In total, more than 10.2 million people require urgent food assistance. And those who can no longer bear to suffer in their rural villages are fleeing for Addis Ababa and other cities -- where their prospects are equally grim.
“In the cities, these internal refugees receive no help and often do not even find a place to sleep,” says Father Estifanos Gebremeskel, superior of the Salesian Vice-Province of Ethiopia. “This puts them at significant risk, for they are vulnerable to human traffickers seeking to exploit and enslave them.”
Recognizing the urgent need for humanitarian assistance, Salesian missionaries have stepped in to do what they can.
Using deep wells previously built by members of Volontariato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo (VIS), an Italian-based NGO -- and financed in part by Salesian Missions’ Clean Water Initiative -- missionaries and volunteers are currently delivering up to 20,000 liters of water each day to schools; hospitals and first aid clinics; and centers for street children, women and refugees. Missionaries have also purchased and are distributing fortified meals, multivitamins, powdered milk and other essential staples, with priority given to families with dangerously malnourished children. Initially, more than 12,000 people will benefit in some of the hardest-hit regions in Ethiopia, including Somali, Tigray and Oromia.
“A crisis of this magnitude requires a swift response,” says Nico Lotta, the president of VIS. “We work alongside the Salesians in collaboration with local institutions to help people overcome this terrible drought. The people of Ethiopia need emergency responses -- but they also need sustainable infrastructure.”
Therefore, in addition to immediate relief efforts, Salesian missionaries have already drawn up plans to rehabilitate dysfunctional wells, and drill new ones, in as many remote villages as possible. These wells will provide safe and sustainable drinking water in addition to providing irrigation for fields and animals -- enabling communities to become more resilient in times of future drought.
“This work is particularly resonant during this Jubilee of Mercy Year established by Pope Francis,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “One of the Corporal Acts of Mercy is giving drink to the thirsty -- something the people of Ethiopia so desperately need.”
Finally, Salesian missionaries in Addis Ababa -- who have been working on behalf of marginalized youth and families for more than 40 years -- are also helping to address the needs of the tens of thousands of migrants who have flooded the city in search of food, water and work. A campaign to raise awareness (and combat the practice) of human trafficking is integral to these efforts.
This and all of the work of Salesian missionaries around the globe is only possible with the kind generosity of our many -- and merciful -- friends.
Our mission brings food and clean water to drought-stricken people and gives hope in times of crisis. What’s your mission?