Ethiopia drought: if older people remain excluded they will continue to suffer

Anteneh is a Communications Officer for HelpAge – our partner in Ethiopia. His recent work visiting older people in areas badly affected by drought has opened his eyes to the unique challenges older people face during times of crisis.

One of the first trips I went on after starting this role was to Borena – an area severely affected by the drought in Ethiopia. We went to conduct a needs assessment – a trip to find out how older people are being affected by drought and therefore how best to help them.

It was a real shock to see two older women so weak and malnourished

Grandmother Koyo and her daughter 65-year-old Guyatu

It was in Borena that I met Koyo – a  grandmother who didn’t have enough food or money to feed herself.

As we sat talking, I could see the carcasses of Koyo’s goats strewn across the land around us. With no goats to sell, Koyo couldn’t afford to buy food. She was weak from hunger.

And, she was deeply worried about her family – she is a mother of 5 and a grandma of 9.

Koyo's daughter gives her water

Koyo’s daughter gives her water

Her daughter, Guyatu, is 65 years old. The pair would travel together for miles to collect firewood and try to find food and water. They took care of one another. They got money by selling the firewood. But they had to travel such long distances to put food on the table.

It was a real shock to see two older women so weak and malnourished having to go to such lengths to survive. It was such an emotional experience. I will never forget meeting them.

I met older people who suffer on a daily basis

Because of the lack of pasture, many older people in the area lost their animals – they lost their cattle, their goats. On the visit, we saw carcasses all over the ground. The older people I met were so weak because of the drought and the lack of food. They were living off the generosity of the community.

Older people are vulnerable because they are isolated. They need to travel long distances to collect food and water. They are old and weak and they are working really hard just to survive.

Sometimes, their lack of mobility is a problem. It’s difficult for them to move from place to place. They are left with the children. People don’t see their efforts and their suffering. They are invisible.

My job is to create an awareness of older people and their situation

Before I started this job I didn’t really think about it but most organisations focus on helping women and children. They don’t usually think of older people and don’t include them in their programmes.

The assistance provided by many organisations isn’t age-friendly – it doesn’t take into consideration older people’s limited mobility or disabilities. Organisations don’t think about the fact that many older people physically cannot stand for hours in long queues, or that older people cannot chew or digest certain foods. And, because women and children are often prioritised, there may not be any food left for older people.

After we did the assessment in Borena, we gave haricot beans, oil and cash transfers to 2,400 older people. In East Showa, we distributed maize seed to 2,000 older people. We gave over 6 kilos of seed and 25 kilos of fertiliser to older farmers.

My job is to create an awareness of older people and their situation – we need to work hard to advocate for older people to be included in other organisations’ responses.

I hope this year will be better than last year. If the drought in Ethiopia continues and older people remain excluded from response programmes, they will continue to suffer.

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