I have just returned from a trip to Ethiopia and I am still haunted by what I saw and experienced. We had received reports from our staff and on-the-ground partners that the country-wide drought had made living conditions extremely difficult, but I was still unprepared for the severity of the situation I witnessed. To its credit, the Ethiopian government has worked over the past few years to improve infrastructure, work with NGOs, and avert nation-wide famines as had taken place in the past. But the current drought is being described by some as the worst in 50 years, and it is having a terrible impact on the people of Denan and beyond.
The parched land and lack of potable water in the area is shocking. There has been no rain since early last May except for a brief shower in October. There is little pastureland remaining and the crop fields have turned to dust. As a result, malnutrition is rampant, coupled with severe outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea (AWD) and other even more serious diseases. The cases of AWD were so numerous that we had to set up and staff a special clinic to treat the disease in Shinile, about 22 kilometers from Denan. Our hospital was overflowing with every room, with beds completely filled, and patients reduced to sleeping on the floors.
Potable water has to be trucked in, as normal water sources have dried up. The one or two sources remaining have become polluted. Other than the water provided by our tanker, most of the other water that is trucked in has to be paid for, with the little money people have. At least every family I spoke to had suffered the loss of at least one family member because of the current conditions. In addition, I would estimate that most people have lost between 70% and 90% of their herds, mostly sheep and goats. Some had lost all their livestock.
Due to the incredibly generosity of our supporters, we were able to raise almost $35,000 to bring emergency food supplies to the people of Denan. The Denan Project provided one 55lb. sack of rice and three liters of cooking oil to the most needy families, enough to feed about 12,500 people for about 3-4 weeks. The major distribution of food was to Denan and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, with smaller distribution sites set up in the villages of Kore, Qora and Walalgo. We worked with the government prior to our arrival in order to find the most needy families at the designated sites, with each selected family being given a chit to present at the time of distribution.
The gratitude of the people we helped was touching. Many told us it would be the first time that they had tasted rice in more than 3 months. One of the most poignant stories I heard was from a woman and her 2 children sleeping on the floor in a room filled with malnourished people, mostly children, also suffering from acute watery diarrhea. The woman was from an outlying village. She had to give one of her children away before coming to the hospital because she could not care for him. She had lost all her animals and her husband died the month before when he drowned in the Mediterranean while heading for Eastern Europe with the hope of making a better life for his family.
When we founded The Denan Project, it was with the idea of helping people in a community who, by no fault of their own, were faced with almost unimaginably horrendous living conditions. We have made a difference in this community, and in the others we serve, and we are very proud of this important work. At the same time, we are always confronted with the feeling that there is still more we could be doing to help. It is for this reason that we work so hard to stretch every dollar we receive, and pledge 100% of donations to the communities in which we work. And it is why we respond to calls for emergency aid from the communities we serve. I hope that you, our supporters, know how grateful we, and the people of Denan are for your aid in this time of great need. This emergency food shipment has most certainly saved lives, and hopefully will provide the lifeline many people need before the Spring rains arrive. Any additional funds that arrive will be used to provide medical supplies, keep our water tanker functioning and helping the people of this hard-hit area.