Children in Ethiopia ‘too sick to feel hunger’ – Mary’s Meals launches appeal | World | News

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I have just returned from Tigray in northern Ethiopia, which – despite its unique history, culture and breath-taking scenery – will, sadly, forever be associated with hunger.

The infamous famine here in the 1980s was the catalyst for Live Aid and that enormous global fundraising effort that many of my generation will never forget.

I last visited in 2017 and even then, we saw the pressing need for our daily meals in places of education and agreed plans to greatly expand our work as soon as possible.

At that point, none of us could have envisaged the devastation that was about to unfold.

The Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the economic downturn led to a huge surge in hunger all over the developing world, but in Tigray these have been compounded by two additional catastrophic events. 

The two-year a civil war – which claimed the lives of around 600,000 people and left the country in ruins – has been closely followed by a terrible drought, leaving dry fields unplanted.

Tigray officials say 4.5 million people are in urgent need of food aid and both adults and children have already begun dying of hunger.

In the largest hospital in the region’s capital, beside a ward full of emaciated babies and their mothers, a local paediatrician explained to me that more and more children are dying from malnutrition here:

“We are seeing three times as many cases of malnutrition as normal, and the mortality rate is five times higher. 

“Previous deaths were generally linked to other health conditions, but now malnutrition is a single cause on its own.”

As always children are suffering the most. Hundreds of thousands have dropped out of school because of their acute hunger. 

In just one small mountainside village, they told me around 300 children no longer attended school.

And meanwhile, wherever I travelled in Tigray, I met proud people – amongst them former business owners – now reduced to begging each day to survive.

The only ray of hope I saw was in the schools where we serve Mary’s Meals. In these schools the opposite is happening; rolls have risen and happy, laughing children queue for their daily school meal.

Free of the gnawing pain of hunger, they dared to tell me about their dreams for the future. 

Mary’s Meals has always made a deliberate choice to work in places of acute need and has responded to many terrible humanitarian crises.

But never, anywhere, have I seen a situation crying out so desperately for our school meals. We urgently need to expand to bring Mary’s Meals to more children here – and the only thing that is preventing us doing so is funding.

Many here are saying that this could be worse than the famine in the 1980s. That is a shocking possibility, but one that could still be avoided if only the cry of those children – in this noisy distracted world of ours – is heard and responded to, before it’s too late.

– Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow is the founder of Mary’s Meals



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