A million older people suffering from famine

By Henry Neondo

Nearly a million elderly people from around the Eastern Africa are estimated to be at risk of starvation.

According to HelpAge International, HAI, "the region is experiencing one of the worst droughts in this decade, exacerbated by repeated failure of the rains since 19842".

A press release from the HAI says that although there is rain now over parts of the region, this does not mean the food crisis is over.

Pastoralists have lost up to 80 per cent of their cattle and farmers have seen successive crops whither and die over the last six seasons, leaving them no source of food or income.

HAI says that older people are among the poorest and most vulnerable, and are often overlooked in disaster relief. "Their families are forced to move away in search of water and food, grandparents are often too frail to travel and are left behind to look after the grandchildren. Many are left with nothing and struggle to cope".

HelpAge International, with support from its partner Help the Aged, is ensuring that older people are included in relief efforts. It is restocking cattle and goats, strengthening breeding stock and improving access to water for the older communities.

Working through local partners, the Charity is distributing fodder to the cattle.

It is using water tankers to reach villages, and using camels to carry water to remoter areas where there are older people who cannot walk to distribution points.

Last week, during a Help the Aged visit to the drought stricken parts of southern Ethiopia and Kitui in Kenya, older people explained: “The animals we have left are so weak that we cannot rely on them for milk. We are totally reliant on relief food. I have sent someone to get us relief food. If they do not return I think we will all die.”

Lizzie Nkosi, HelpAge International Programme Director, Ethiopia, confirms: “The rain may have arrived but older herdsmen will lose more animals. The cows are weak and can barely walk. They lie down and refuse to get up. Some cattle will drink too much water and collapse. They need fodder and veterinary care. The grass growth will take time so the cattle will not get fat overnight or produce more milk. It is not going to change the lack of food security. Restocking is essential.

“In the culture of these pastoralists, older people look after the youngest children. They need to be targeted as a priority for relief.”

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