One of only two nations in the world never to have been occupied. Home to people who speak over 80 languages. The only African country with its own alphabet. The only country in the world with a 13 month year. This is Ethiopia.
Located in what’s known as the Horn of Africa, a peninsula in Northeast Africa, we rarely hear about Ethiopia’s fascinating history and its medieval world in Lalibela, shaped from stone. Nor do we read about its historical treasures such as its ancient tombs and the obelisks of Aksum. Most would barely have heard of Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. Fewer still would be aware that Ethiopia is referred to by a portion of people as the Lion of Africa due to its economic expansion, growing at 11 per cent - that’s twice the regional average.
We don’t often see stories exploring the more fascinating facets of Ethiopia or hear about its hidden gems and the resilience of its people. About women such as Zinet, a 19-year-old who lives in Ethiopia’s green northern mountains. She volunteers with Save the Children as a Health Development Army worker and is helping to save lives - one in every 17 Ethiopian children dies before their first birthday. More alarmingly still, one in every 11 children die before their fifth birthday.
Why are men such as Melkie, a 24-year-old priest and midwife, rarely highlighted? He works at the Woken Health Centre where he plays a key role in welcoming new babies into the world safely and assisting in 10-hour deliveries.
Zinet and Melkie make-up just two of many more inspiring stories about how people in the region are making a difference despite incredible challenges.
That all said, some will be aware that Zinet and Melkie’s region is drought stricken and according to latest reports, enduring its worst drought in 50 years. Although most of the Horn of Africa is impacted by the drought, those in Ethiopia and Somalia are the worst hit with the current crisis compounded by some of the strongest El Niño weather patterns we’ve seen on record.
In total, 75 per cent of harvests have been eradicated while water shortages have led to the death of up to 1 million livestock. With such a heavy reliance on livestock and agriculture, all projections point to a food crisis. In other words, anywhere between 10 to 15 million people will need food assistance while up to 430,000 children could suffer from severe malnutrition as a result.
Projections and numbers aside, the international community must now band together and leading nations such as Australia, must rethink current aid contributions. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s announcement of $15m to Ethiopia and Somalia is a promising start and represents a positive contribution to this crisis.
However, this contribution also follows the Government cutting $11.3 billion from Australian Aid, the largest ever cuts. Once fully implemented, these cuts will take us to the lowest level of aid since records began. And, of all the cuts the Government made, the largest cuts were to Africa, the area of greatest need.
The 2016 Federal budget will be an opportunity for the Government to reverse the $224m cut to aid that is scheduled for 2016-17.
For decades, Australians have shown that when people anywhere need a hand, we’re there for them. Everyone has a right to food, clean water, healthcare and education. Australia should leave no stone unturned to help the world’s poor to realise their vast potential.
Tony Milne is the Campaign Director for Campaign for Australian Aid.