The effects of the drought combined with rising food prices and low international availability of relief food have provoked the most severe humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia since 2003. With six major droughts in two decades, many families never have time to recover from one calamity before another befalls them, wiping out crops, animals and the few assets they managed to scrape together. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the brink of survival each year. In January 2009, the government and humanitarian actors estimated 4.9 million people would need emergency food assistance during the year.

Ikashe and her eleven-month old boy Mare live off a small plot of land, which Ikashe uses to grow maize and root crops such as sweet potato and enset, an endemic food made from the root of the ‘false banana’ plant. Ikashe’s yield in 2008 was minimal. She has since been dependent on food assistance to feed her family. Like many mothers from the drought-affected villages of Ethiopia’s Boricha district, Ikashe brings her child to be weighed and measured at the Yirba Health Centre.

Health extension workers weigh and measure the mid-upper arm circumference of the children, after which they receive a weekly ration of the ready-to-use therapeutic food Plumpy’nut.

This is only the second visit of Ikashe and Mare, but the treatment is already having a marked impact on his condition. “You can see that he likes the food very much” says Ikashe. “His appetite has improved and he is eating well.” Plumpy’nut is popular with small children such as Mare because it tastes good, like a sweeter version of peanut butter. The energy-rich paste contains the right balance of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals to treat severe under-nutrition. It can be administered at home, as long as children do not have additional medical complications or serious illness.

For baby Mare, the journey to recovery is well under way. If there are no complications, he should return to normal in about one month.

In Ethiopia, EU funding helped the UN purchase 697 tonnes of Plumpy’nut for over 70,000 children in the southern part of ountry.