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  • Greatest distance runner in history Haile Gebrselassie makes appeal for the world to act now against disastrous hunger crisis caused by El Niño - ActionAid press release

    Tuesday 19 July 2016 (Addis Ababa) The 27 time world record holder and two time Olympic gold medallist – Haile Gebrselassie – has today made a call for international assistance to tackle the disastrous hunger crisis caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon. Extreme weather has caused the worst drought in 50 years in Gebrselassie’s home country of Ethiopia alone, with many other parts of the globe also affected.

    Gebrselassie makes the appeal with the charity ActionAid as international governments meet at the United Nations in New York today to discuss funding an international response to the crisis. 60 million people’s food security and livelihoods are thought to have been destroyed by the extreme weather across East and Southern Africa, Central America and Asia. Funding for the crisis currently only stands at one third of the levels required, according to the UN.

    In Ethiopia in particular, there are currently more than at ten million people in need of food aid – more than the population of London.

    Gebrselassie said: “There’s a huge emergency here in Ethiopia and the world is at risk of forgetting what’s happening.  Millions of people are hungry following the country’s worst drought for 50 years.  Families are in desperate need of food as crops have been destroyed, livestock has been killed and people’s way of life has been dramatically altered.”

    In Ethiopia the government has been providing aid to the people affected but the scale of the drought has outstripped available resources. An estimated 435,000 children need treatment for severe acute malnutrition and more than 1.7 million children, pregnant women and breast-feeding women need additional food aid. Without immediate assistance more people could slip into hunger.  The situation is similar in other countries affected by the extreme weather caused by El Niño.

    Gebrselassie continued: “If we work together, we will be able to stop the worst from happening. The world needs to take action now and provide funds to avert widespread suffering, death and disease.

    “My home country has taken enormous steps forward in recent years, not least in providing healthcare in rural communities.  But people here have been suffering for several months now, particularly young children and pregnant mothers.  If we’re not able to get more help to people soon the suffering of people will be much more severe.”

    Although the El Niño phenomenon itself is subsiding, its devastating human impact will increase in the coming weeks and months with El Niño-related food insecurity projected to exist into 2017.  It will take many months of support for people in Ethiopia, and elsewhere, to restore crops, livestock and food supplies.

    Gebrselassie concluded: “The world’s ability to save lives now is a test of how we will cope in the future as climate change causes more erratic weather across the globe.”

    Haile Gebrselassie is a retired distance runner who broke 61 Ethiopian national records, 27 world records, won two Olympic gold medals and won the Berlin Marathon four times in a row. He has supported ActionAid over a number of years.  

    ActionAid is helping communities affected by the extreme weather across Ethiopia by providing supplementary food, seeds for planting crops and clean drinking water. It is also responding to the hunger caused by El Niño in Somaliland, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Vietnam.

    Video footage and photographs of Gebrselassie’s fundraising appeal: 


    According to UNOCHA, the current funding gap in this crisis is $2.5 billion for a total budget of almost $3.9 billion. Further cited figures for numbers of people affected are from UN sources and can be found here.

    ActionAid has been working in Ethiopia on emergency and long-term development programmes for 26 years.  ActionAid is currently responding to droughts in several other parts of the world including Somaliland, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Lesotho in Africa and India and Vietnam in Asia.

    For updates, follow @ActionAidNews on Twitter

    For more information, please contact: Tizita Kebede at 

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