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#48 for East Africa: a personal experience of the food crisis with Oxfam in Ethiopia

August 7, 2011

This was post was written as part of ’48 hours of blogging for East Africa’, an initiative started by US site The Daily Kos, which aims to use the internet ‘to get as many people as possible talking about the food crisis over the course of this weekend’ – and raise more money in doing so. I’ve already written about the East African food crisis for Oxfam; this post considers it from my own personal perspective. I hope it inspires you to donate something!


As an intern with Oxfam in Ethiopia, I learnt pretty early of the bad drought affecting some southern regions this year. But the first time it really registered for me was a few months ago, when I went to Shinile in the southeast.

I went to learn about Oxfam’s cash for work schemes, which pay poor pastoralists to help construct trenches, dams, etc to protect their pasture so that in future drought years, their animals won’t die and they won’t lose their livelihoods. It was great to hear how the money had been a lifeline for people in the current drought. But something else came through loud and clear – this was no ordinary drought, and, in the escalating situation, our support was no longer enough.

At this point, the drought there was not yet a crisis, and there was still hope that things would get better. ‘We are waiting on the rain’ said Hanura, a grandmother and carer of five. But though it did come in the end, it wasn’t long or heavy enough to change anything – for the cattle, most dead or dying, or their owners, losing their lifeline, their income to buy food, and walking half the day to get water.

On my last day, I’d just finished talking with Hanura when I heard a commotion in the distance – I thought it was a fight. But when my colleague and I approached we found an incredible sight: forty-odd women (and children) standing in a long line, clapping and swaying and chanting our names. They’d come to meet us and thank us for listening to their problems and requests. It was incredible – smiling, joyful people in bright psychedelic robes that dazzled against the pale sand and the pale sky like a vision. And then suddenly it was over, and we watched them disperse into the pale landscape.

crowd greeting us, giving thanks, Gobablay, 48 hours for East Africa

I’ll never forget their spirit and energy in the face of hardship many of us could barely imagine. They didn’t want handouts: they wanted us to support them through a situation where they could no longer help themselves. They’d even written petitions, in English and Somali, requesting more cash for work. ‘We need to work, but with the drought there is no rain, no crops to harvest, no food’ said one woman. I left feeling incredibly humbled, but also concerned, at how much our support so clearly meant to them; and both the urgency of conveying their deteriorating situation and fear that doing so might not change anything – that Oxfam might not have the capacity or the resources to give them much more support.

Three months on, so much has changed. The drought has worsened rapidly to crisis point in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya and famine in parts of Somalia, and is now a global news story. Oxfam (and the UN and many other aid agencies) has launched a campaign and a massive response; in Ethiopia, Shinile is a part of it. I think of the line of women thanking us for listening, and am so relieved that it meant something; that their voices have, in effect, been heard by the world, and they’re getting the life-saving support they desperately need.

Three months on, I am also now helping in a more direct way: supporting Oxfam’s drought response in Ethiopia, chipping my own bit off the mountain of work that providing life-saving support on this scale requires. Here in the Addis Ababa office, I’m surrounded by people working an ungodly amount of hours seven days a week, every week, with teams on the ground across the worst-hit areas, giving life-saving assistance to those who need it most: from rural communities to Somali refugees in Dolo Ado refugee camp. Water, food vouchers, cash transfers, water-purifying tablets, latrines, refugee protection, the list goes on. I’ve watched the response gather pace with excitement: one day plans on paper, the next teams of experts arriving in the field, new boreholes meeting  thousands people’s daily water needs, 600 tonnes of supplies ariving in Dolo Ado…

Of course with successes come frustrations alike, but the dedication and ability of my colleagues in delivering a complex, logistically challenging and ever-growing response is nothing short of inspiring – though far from unique in those responding to the drought. I only hope that we can all provide enough assistance to the ever-increasing number of people who need it – according to UNOCHA, as of August 2, only 37% of the estimated amount ($398,400) needed forEthiopia has been funded, and only 44% for the Horn of Africa as a whole, with $1.4 billion still needed. This is why donations can really make a difference. And, as I learnt talking to poor families in Shinile: a little really can go a long, long way.

crowd greeting us, giving thanks, Gobablay 3, 48 hours of blogging for East Africacrowd greeting us, giving thanks, Gobablay 2, 48 hours of blogging for East Africa











Obviously as an Oxfam employee, I’m somewhat partisan, so not sure I can pick an organisation to send donations to as other #48forEastAfrica bloggers are. So here are links to donate to two:

Donate to the Oxfam GB East Arica Appeal

Donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee East Africa appeal

NB this from the WiserEarth blog (though replace $ with £):

Remember to add $.01 to your donation so it ends up being $5.01, $20.01, $50.01, $100.01, and so on. This will enable Oxfam to keep track of all Daily Kos donations. 

More about #48forEastAfrica

The event aims to increase understanding of the causes of the crisis and how problems that include marginalisation, conflict, a lack of investment in small-scale food producers, and a changing climate must all be addressed in the long term

Participating blogs so far include, WiserEarth, tcktcktck, DeSmogBlog, MIT Climate CoLab, BPI Campus, Climate Change: The Next Generation,, and MedicMobile.

Follow the action at the project homebase East Africa Food Crisis: 48 Hours of Action. Use the hashtag #48forEastAfrica.

Horn of Africa Drought Facts (combined sources from DailyKos)

• More than 12 million people are affected in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and Uganda
• Nearly half of Somalia’s population is facing a humanitarian crisis – almost 3.7 million people
• Over 2 million children under the age of five who are suffering from malnutrition; 480,000 are severely malnourished
• UN declares famine in two districts- Bakool and Lower Shabelle – in southern Somalia; anticipates spread of famine throughout the entire southern Somalia region.
• Women are disproportionally affected by the drought as they are the last to eat when food is limited.
• Aid response nearly $1 billion short of what is needed
• Immunizations have begun in Daab Refugee camp, where medical teams are in serious need of additional supplies.
• Over $1bn has been committed but a further $1bn is still required to save thousands of lives

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2011 3:58 PM

    Hi Sophie, We’re looking to fund a great idea to raise awareness about this crisis, and I was wondering if you had suggestions on how to spread the word about the opportunity.

    GOOD Magazine, in partnership with USAID, is offering a $5,000 grant to fund an idea to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in East Africa. We’re asking people to tell us how you would use $5,000 to help raise awareness in your community, whether by hosting a local event or starting your own grassroots campaign. We’ll review each entry and from December 2nd to December 14th, the public will vote on which idea would have the most impact. The top submission will receive $5,000 to implement the plan locally and will be featured in digital and social media channels by USAID and the Ad Council.

    Proposals are due this Friday, December 2nd. See for more details. Please let me know if you have any suggestions on how to spread the word!
    Thanks, Jen

    • November 28, 2011 7:47 PM

      Dear Jen,
      Thanks for bringing this to my attention! Have you contacted Oxfam International? Or perhaps, as this is only open to US citizens, Oxfam America? They’ve publicised similar awareness-raising things (like the one I wrote this for) and I’m sure would be happy to blog about or at least tweet about yours. here’s some useful twitter accounts:
      Oxfam east Africa!/OxfamEAfrica (run by the head of east africa comms, alun macdonald:!/alunmcdonald); nate mccray, does media stuff for oxfam international (!/natemccray); richard casson, does ecampaign things for Oxfam GB!/richardcasson); oxfam america (!/oxfamamerica)

      This is probably the easiest way to get in touch with them… hope this helps! Also, what a great idea, i can’t wait to see what people come up with!

      Best wishes,

      • November 28, 2011 7:49 PM

        Hi Sophie,
        Thanks for your advice! We will tweet them.

    • November 28, 2011 7:49 PM

      Oh also the Daily Kos are great at spreading the word about things like this! I suggest following!/boatsie who seems to coordinate cooverage…
      will let you know if I think of any more ideas.


  1. WiserEarth Supports #48forEastAfrica: A Weekend of Action | WiserEarth Blog

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