Food Crisis Hits Horn of Africa

by Mercy Corps
A woman collects water from the reservoir
A woman collects water from the reservoir

Since building a reservoir in the Ethiopian village of Dudmaygag, lives like 18-year-old Anab’s have changed drastically.

Previously, Anab had to walk more than two days to reach a water source. She would bring her family's animals with her, walking in simple sandals on sandy paths studded with rocks to fill jerry cans and bring the much needed water home for cooking, washing and drinking.

In the middle of the worst drought in 60 years, fetching water was her most important task. But since - because of you - Mercy Corps built a reservoir near her village, getting clean water is not such a chore. Anab now fetches water several times a week and even sometimes daily. 

Anab continues to care for her family, but now she has also become an advocate to get more reservoirs in her village and the surrounding ones as, because of lack of rain and increased use as people find out about the reservoir, the water can get depleted rapidly in a month. But even with the lack of water, the atmosphere around the reservoir remains one of extreme support for one another mixed with deep appreciation of what has been done for them.

Because of your generosity, Anab, and many others in the community, are now able to focus on other aspects of life besides fetching water.

Thank you for continuing to care about the people like Anab in the Horn of Africa!

With gratitude, 


Women collect water from the reservoir
Women collect water from the reservoir
People help one another retrieve the water
People help one another retrieve the water


Emergency food aid recipient in Yemen
Emergency food aid recipient in Yemen

As we ring in the New Year, we spend time reviewing what has been done in 2012. Because of you, we at Mercy Corps were able to do some real life-changing work this year!

You are the reason we were able to provide emergency food in the Sahel region, vocational training in Afghanistan, Hurricane Sandy relief in Haiti, and help more than 1.9 million people survive the Horn of Africa's drought and famine -- among our many other projects and programs around the world. Thank you.

We like to see the people you impacted, and I bet you do too. Over 17,000 photos were collected this year, and we would like to share some of them with you!

Check out our slide show of the ten best images from 2012 and witness photos of:

  • A young woman benefiting from Mercy Corps' emergency food aid in Yemen.
  • Wiam, a seven-year-old girl living with just a suitcase and a cardboard box of belongings in the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan.
  • A community using the Mercy Corps-sponsored well in Niger to help with the drought and resulting hunger crisis.
  • Jhon during his training as a mechanical engineer in our rehabilitation program in Colombia. Jhon escaped life as a child soldier with the FARC militants.

And many others!

These images capture the resilient and strong-willed spirit of those we work with, but there is still so much to be done.

As you consider your end-of-year giving, I encourage you to donate to a Mercy Corps project through Global Giving. Choose this one or pick a different project to make a lifesaving difference for families in need:

With you, in 2013, we will continue to make it a brighter, healthier year for families in the world’s most desperate places. With your support, we can make it happen - together!

In gratitude,

Carlene Deits

Syrian refugee 7 year old Wiam in Jordan
Syrian refugee 7 year old Wiam in Jordan
Mercy Corps-sponsored well fights Niger drought
Mercy Corps-sponsored well fights Niger drought



While crises were happening in the Horn of Africa, and continue even today, you have helped to save and change the lives for many men, women, children - and whole communities - in this part of the world.

Because of your compassion and generosity we were able to achieve so much in 2012. You made change possible!

The accomplishments shared below are a testament to the more than 70,000 donors (including you!) who’ve made this work possible. Because of you this is what we were able to do in the Horn of Africa as well as other parts of the world:

  • In Somalia, we helped more than 1.9 million people survive the Horn of Africa’s drought and famine by providing food, safe drinking water, clean sanitation facilities and protection for vulnerable women and girls in displacement camps.
  • In Ethiopia, our mobile health teams brought emergency food and medical care to more than 27,000 malnourished children in remote villages.
  • Our loans helped 193 Japanese entrepreneurs get back to business and provide jobs after their enterprises were damaged or destroyed by the 2011 tsunami.
  • In Iraq, we taught 5,500 women to read — and learn their rights in a newly democratic country.
  • We staved off malnutrition in 23,585 Guatemalan mothers and infants.

To show our appreciation, we have put together a slideshow to share how much we were able to accomplish because of your contribution. Check out how you have changed and transformed lives!

And if you haven't received a free 2013 Mercy Corps calendar we still have some left! Just e-mail your address to and we will happily send you one!

On behalf of the millions of people our work has touched this year, thank you!

In gratitude,

Carlene Deits




Mercy Corps
Mercy Corps' 2013 Wall Calendar

Thank you for your support. Because you have put your caring into action to Mercy Corps through GlobalGiving, we are able to make a positive impact on lives in the Horn of Africa. To show our appreciation, we'd like to give you a Mercy Corps calendar as a thank you and daily reminder of how you are changing lives!

Because of you, we’re on the ground doing everything we can. We targeted emergency aid to the hardest-hit to help them survive in the short term. Now, we continue to support people building resilience to future cycles of drought and hunger — finding new ways to earn money and support their families, replacing lost livestock and improving the health of their animals, cultivating drought-resistant crops and better managing their land and water supplies. We could not have had that positive impact without you!

To receive your free 2013 Mercy Corps wall calendar, please send an email to with your mailing address! Your address will not be used for any other purpose than mailing you this calendar.

If you are a resident of the Portland, Oregon metro area, please keep in mind that Mercy Corps has several upcoming free events that we would love for you to attend. Tuesday evening on October 30th, we have team members share their stories from the field of how positive changes are being made. Please click here for details of this and other upcoming events and exhibits. If you'd like to attend or receive a monthly email of these events, let us know! Your email will not be added to Mercy Corps overall email list. 

As the end of 2012 quickly approaches, thank you in advance for keeping Mercy Corps in mind as a donation option to change additional lives for the better.

Again, thank you!

Pastoralist women in southern Ethiopia
Pastoralist women in southern Ethiopia


Malnourished children receive therapeutic food
Malnourished children receive therapeutic food

You might hear it called a “slow onset” emergency because, unlike the sudden strike of an earthquake, drought builds gradually. But don’t bother telling that to the mothers whose children are hanging on by a thread; slow isn’t the word they would choose. Grueling, they might say. Nerve-wracking. Painful.

The first warnings came from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in November 2010, after autumn rains failed to arrive. Red-soil grasslands baked as hard as concrete. The region hadn’t been this dry in 60 years. By early 2011, 6.3 million people needed emergency help. But it wasn’t until the summer, when the number of people in crisis doubled to 12.3 million, that the general public finally began to pay attention.

By that time Mercy Corps had already launched an emergency response in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, bringing water, food and medical care to those who are most vulnerable: babies, children, orphans, widows, elders.

Now, one year later, we’re still helping the people of the Horn recover. In remote rural Ethiopia, where most people are herders, we’re focusing our efforts on malnourished children and their moms.

Milk from the sky?

Why is malnutrition such a scourge among these families? They depend on their sheep, goats, camels and cattle for everything: milk and meat, labor, income. When the rains don't come, pastures dry up. Animals have nothing to eat. They lose weight, become malnourished, stop having babies, can’t produce milk. Many die. The consequences to humans — especially children, for whom milk is the main protein source — are profound. So even though milk doesn’t really fall from the sky, the link between rainfall and malnutrition is direct and unmistakable.

It takes time for the land to heal from a long, severe drought. It takes time for animals to recover and become fertile again. A drought like the one in the Horn is not only slow to arrive, but slow to depart.

“Even assuming normal rains this season and for the next three rainy seasons,” says Nathan Oetting, director of integrated humanitarian response for Mercy Corps Ethiopia, “it will be the middle of 2013 — at the earliest — before the region produces enough milk for children’s needs.” That means malnourished people will need care for some time.

Mobile clinics bring lifesaving care where the need is greatest

Mercy Corps is currently running eight mobile health clinics that provide exams, triage, food, medicine, vaccines and treatment to babies, children and adults. Each mobile unit is staffed by two or three nurses and two or three health workers; to make sure people continue to get the lifesaving help they need, we’re training local people to take over the program. Our clinics travel to communities where the need is greatest and other care is not available.

They arrive in a jeep stocked with lifesaving supplies: antibiotics, analgesics, cough syrup, deworming medicine, vitamin A (a common deficiency), Plumpy’nut high-protein therapeutic food for infants, fortified corn-soy cereal and cooking oil, as well as soap and mosquito nets.

Since last summer, our mobile health teams in Ethiopia have cared for 37,871 children, distributed food to 63,763 malnourished people and provided immunizations and information to help thousands more survive the drought — and stay healthier beyond that.

Nursing malnourished children back to health

When mothers like Hali, Mona and Zainab show up seeking care for their children, many are deeply worried. Their babies are listless. Their toddlers weigh less than an infant should. Their little ones are frail, sick or both. Our health workers check their condition. All too often, we discover the telltale signs of malnutrition: edema, dry reddish hair like Abdirizaq’s, below-normal upper arm measurements.

A child diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition is given the fortified peanut mixture called Plumpy’nut, which contains essential nutrients and calories in a toothpaste-like squeeze packet that requires no cooking. “It’s sweet,” explains Nate, “so the kids eat it right away.” After their condition improves to moderate acute malnutrition, parents receive vitamin fortified cooking oil and corn-soy cereal to help their kids continue to gain weight and become stronger and healthier.

Quick triage gets the sickest babies to inpatient care center

Our teams triage the most seriously ill little ones, who have other complications like pneumonia or malaria. “Their lives are in danger,” Nate explains, “so they’re immediately referred to one of our emergency stabilization centers.”

Mercy Corps Ethiopia currently runs six such centers — three in Shinile Zone, two in Degehabur Zone and one in Afder Zone, all located in the hard-hit Somali Region of eastern Ethiopia. In these centers the sickest babies are treated as inpatients, with their mothers or fathers close by, until they are strong enough to continue treatment as outpatients.

“They need special care before they can even digest Plumpy’nut,” says Nate. “Our goal is to stabilize them in a few days.” We are training staff and gradually transferring the operation of these centers to local governments, so they can continue to be a lifesaving resource.

A little learning yields a lot of health

Our health teams also teach parents what they can do to keep their children healthier, including exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months. “Many village women don’t know what a huge boost that is for the baby,” says Nate. “We see moms feeding their infants sugar water and tea or, on the other end of the spectrum, adult foods the infant can’t digest. We tell the moms when they eat nutritious foods, the baby gets the benefit in their breast milk.” A mother whose new habits make her baby stronger becomes a powerful example for other moms.

We also teach parents about hygiene, sanitation and the use of mosquito nets to help families avoid common diseases like malaria and bacteria that cause diarrhea.

Rain is good…right?

A sudden downpour on drought-baked land is greeted with joy and relief. But it’s not an instant fix. And rain after a long drought causes new problems: floods and erosion, washed-out roads, waterborne disease.

In Ethiopia, rainwater is collected in birkeds, open ponds that by nature aren’t germ-free. “It’s the storage system they use,” says Nate, “but unfortunately it’s not hygienic. During a drought, animals wander into the empty reservoir and leave feces behind.” Then, after rain, there’s a spike in diarrhea cases, so we shift our focus to treating the illnesses people get from drinking unclean water. “Waterborne sicknesses are especially hard on kids,” Nate adds. “It’s as dangerous as not having enough water.”

Todays’ forecast: not enough rain – and still not enough food

According to USAID’s Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET), spring rains have been disappointing in many areas of the Horn of Africa. Reservoirs remain empty and wells are drying up. Harvests are poor; farmers whose crops depend on irrigation can’t plant due to high fuel and seed prices. Pastures aren’t regrowing. Herders are traveling long distances to find water for their animals. And inflation is pushing up the price of staples like rice and wheat. Emergency levels of food insecurity are expected to persist at least through September. The crisis that generated so much attention a year ago has not gone away.

The most at-risk families are skipping meals, eating smaller and less nutritious meals and borrowing money (at high interest rates) to buy food. In some areas, hungry kids are dropping out of school. Their mothers and fathers are foraging for wild plants to put something, anything in their bellies.

But they’re not facing this crisis alone. “Mercy Corps has been providing health and nutrition support to communities in the Somali Region of Ethiopia since 2008,” said Nate. “No matter how long it takes, we are committed to supporting the full recovery of families hit hard by drought and food shortages. And we will remain their committed partner as they rebuild their lives and livelihoods.“

Thank you for your support. Know that you saved lives.

Mothers bring children to mobile health clinics
Mothers bring children to mobile health clinics
Mercy Corps bringing lifesaving food and supplies
Mercy Corps bringing lifesaving food and supplies
Abdirizaq is so malnourished his hair lost color
Abdirizaq is so malnourished his hair lost color



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Organization Information

Mercy Corps

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Carlene Deits
Portland, OR United States

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