I defy even the most sceptical of aid sceptics to witness what I did in Ethiopia last week and still criticise the increase in the aid budget to 0.7% of GNI. I went with Harriett Baldwin, Conservative MP and Save the Children parliamentary champion, who wrote an article on her experiences on ConservativeHome.
Ethiopia has made good progress in cutting its child mortality rate by half over the past 20 years. But 12% of children still die before their fifth birthday and a shocking 44% are stunted. Population growth and unreliable rainfall combine to pose challenges almost unequalled worldwide.
In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, booming economic growth is evident in a proliferation of construction, but the poverty that blights so many lives is also apparent in sprawling, unsanitary slums and barefoot children begging for food.
“Without Save the Children, many, many children here would be dead”
We drove north-east into the Afar region and saw vegetation thinning and livestock becoming more sparse and thinner. Eventually we arrived at the Kumame Health Post, where hundreds of families were waiting.
Save the Children’s nurse, Sara, was carefully weighing and measuring children to check their progress. I was particularly struck by one baby, slumped against her mother’s thin chest, who was so severely malnourished that she looked lifeless.
Sara helped the mother feed her baby with high-energy peanut paste, whilst proudly explaining that no children have died at this project. A man from the local government informed us, “Without Save the Children, many, many children here would be dead”.
“Now we can stay healthy because we can wash our hands”
Next stop on our trip was South Wollo in the Amhara region, where over 70% of schools have no water supply and over a quarter of schools have no sanitation facilities at all. As a result many children defecate in the open on school grounds and many others, particularly girls, avoid attending school because of the lack of privacy when going to the toilet.
An estimated 20% of child deaths in Ethiopia are due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by a lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene services.
We visited a school in Wogdi where Save the Children has built water and sanitation facilities, and met Yordanos, 11, who told us, “Now we can stay healthy because we can wash our hands. Also, girls’ school attendance has improved because now we have our own latrines.”
Building resilience in Jarsa village
Our final port of call was the North Wollo area, where famine struck in 1972, prompting Save the Children to open its first Ethiopian programmes.
In Woldiya, we’re building the resilience of the community to help them survive future food crises. We saw an innovative irrigation project, and met a group of farmers who told us it helped them to conserve more water during the rainy seasons and produce more food.
Struggle to survive
All in all, it was an eye-opening trip. I experienced privation I wasn’t used to in the UK – a lack of running water, basic and unhygienic toilet facilities, a total power blackout, a multitude of mosquito bites and a hideous stomach bug that wiped me out for four days.
And yet I experienced nothing like the hardship of millions of poor Ethiopians, who face a constant struggle to feed their families and survive.
I left Ethiopia feeling enormous pride to work for Save the Children and more equipped than ever to make the case for the increase in life-saving aid.