We need to help them now

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Frehiwot Worku, Secretary General of The Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS)

The Red Cross’ fight to mobilize Ethiopians against drought

The current drought in Ethiopia has been said to be the worst in 50 years leaving over 10 million people in need of aid. It may be the worst, but many also suggest that it is being handled well, at least up to this point. The government has contributed a large sum to the USD 1.4 billion currently needed to address the crisis and support from the international community continues to trickle in. And yet, Ethiopia is not out of the shadows, in fact, things are expected to get worse before they get any better.

The Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) is part of the humanitarian response to the drought, and for this organization, getting Ethiopians to help fund relief efforts has been a struggle. Frehiwot Worku, Secretary General of ERCS, says that the response from the public has been underwhelming, ‘One of the problems that make it difficult to mobilize finances is the lack of awareness.’ Capital’s Eskedar Kifle spoke to the Secretary General about the organizations drought related activities and what it will take to mobilize resources and encourage a culture of giving.

Capital: Tell us about some of ERCS’ activities to help drought-affected communities in Ethiopia.

Frehiwot Worku: The Ethiopian Red Cross is working to provide assistance to around 10 percent children under the age of five, breast feeding mothers as well as pregnant women who have been affected by the drought.

Our main task is providing food supplements. The government is already providing food assistance to communities in drought-affected areas. On top of that, there are communities identified as severely affected and for these communities, while the government works to reach them, we also work to reach at least 10 percent of them.

When we started around August2015, we provided food supplements in areas like Afar and Somali regions because the situation there was very bad. But since then we have also provided such assistance in other regions.

Food supplement needs to be provided to people for 6 months for it to be effective. We have already provided three months of supplements to the affected communities, and now we are working on mobilizing resources so that we will be able to provide another three months worth.

Currently, we have been able to reach around 11,000 people out of the 10 percent with our assistance.

Capital: You said that you are trying to reach 10 percent of those severely affected, how many people is that exactly and how much money do you need to reach all of them?

Frehiwot: In numbers it is 171,000. The overall budget is 123 million birr, 40 percent of that is expected to be raised from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, but the rest, which is 60 million birr, we need to raise ourselves. Up to now, we have mobilized up to 20 million.

Capital: How difficult has it been to mobilize the needed finances?

Frehiwot: One of the problems that make it difficult to mobilize finances is the lack of awareness; people want to help, but there is no awareness of how and where. With our capacity, one of the things we had started to raise money was the SMS campaign.
We have conducted other SMS campaigns before to raise money for our organization. The difference is that then, it was a lottery and when people played, there was an opportunity to win prizes and we could do a lot of promotion because we could sponsor that from the money we were raising.

With the current campaign, that is not the case – we cannot spend money on advertizing, we can only ask others to help with that for free. With Ethio Telecom, they have agreed to send two SMS messages for us per week for free; that has its own limitations.

We have also spoken to banks for donations, I was thinking if each bank provided 1 million we would get around 15 million then we can carry out more work; that is what I thought. But things are not as we expect. Zemen Bank was the first one to provide assistance of 500,000 birr which we appreciated highly and I think that will also encourage other banks to so the same. It needs to be collective work – the media also needs to encourage others to participate in giving. A lot more needs to be done to remind everyone, especially those in Addis Ababa and other big cities, the drought situation needs to be given priority.
The government’s stand is that it will not ask citizens to raise funds; there is an international appeal, but other than that, there is no plan to raise funds from the people.

Capital: Given the severity of the situation, shouldn’t people be asked to participate in raising funds? Shouldn’t there be a nationwide appeal?

Frehiwot: Looking at the situation in comparison with such previous humanitarian situations, the way it is being handled is very well and the activities that are being carried out are well managed. It has been given a priority and there is a clear structure.

What we are working to do now is prevent severe malnutrition that could lead to fatality, which is why we are focusing on providing supplementary food because for people that are nearing severe malnutrition, regular food is not enough and on top of that there is food rations, so they need to have the supplements.

Capital: One of the challenges of such a humanitarian situation is logistics and distribution. Have you faced such issues in your activities?

Frehiwot: We have not had that problem. One of our biggest advantage is that the Red Cross has a structures in place in the affected areas; we have Woreda offices in different places with strong networks that are in reach of those in need. There were some tough areas in the Somali Region where the roads were difficult to go through, but we have managed to reach those as well.

Capital: What should be done to remind people that these are tough times and all the help the country can get is needed?

Frehiwot: There are instances where people from poor rural areas that maybe affected by the drought come to the city and beg on the streets. And we think that we can just give them some change from our pockets and feel better about the situation.
It shouldn’t be like that – the plan should be to help those people within their own communities, before they are forced to leave their land. This can be done through institutional giving, not through individual giving.

Institutional giving has a structure, institutions are able to take the money that is given, see that it goes where it needs to go and then monitor the situation. The Red Cross has a strong structure that is very close to communities.

This institution is supported by the society as well; it has six million members that pay a yearly fee of around 10 birr. It is supported by people because people see the work the organization is doing. We need to cultivate institutional giving, it needs to be part of our culture. There is already a culture of helping our own families and those close to us, but we need to also learn to help communities that are in need.

Those that are affected by the drought and are in need will not remain in their own area, if they cannot find anything to eat – they will come here to everyone’s doorsteps. Why wait until that happens? That shouldn’t be the time to help them, after they have lost everything, you cannot help them then. We need to help them now, in their own community and the way to do that is through institutions.