A grim reality for the pastoralists of Ethiopia

Published: 12 August 2011 10:57 CET

By Faye Callaghan in Ethiopia

In Bede village, southern Ethiopia, the community calls a crisis meeting. A man takes out his notebook and starts reading a grim list of statistics: total cattle dead – 2,500, 720 left; total goats dead – 3,200, 1,000 left; total donkeys dead – 308, 102 left.

The list goes on to reveal the toll the drought is taking on their sheep, camels and chickens too. The numbers represent losses of over three quarters of this community’s livelihood. The rains have failed twice; no rain has been seen since April 2010. Many children are now malnourished.

Hassan Ibrahim, chairman of the kebele (village) says their crops have failed too. “We planted maize and beans, but nothing grew.” Asked what he thinks the solution could be, he looks up at the sky and murmurs: “Egziabher Yawkal”. God knows. In his field he kicks the dusty, cracked soil with disdain and picks a seed out of the ground. “Without rain, even these drought resistant crops cannot grow.”

“Many families have moved away, there is nothing left here,” he says. Some have move thirty kilometres away where there is a water source, others have moved to the nearest town, Moyale. But, Ibrahim says, “there are no jobs there; they just depend on the assistance of family.”

This agro-pastoralist community is used to tough weather conditions and supplemented its income through gold mining. But that too relies on water so has come to a halt. With little in terms of a safety net to help families through the tough times, this drought has gone on so long that many see no end in sight. Ibrahim says the community has been badly affected “We have had to start taking our children to a clinic in Moyale because they are so thin.”

In communities like these the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) is getting ready to start distributing food and water to ensure their survival. An emergency appeal was launched to request funding for these life saving activities, and it will also fund projects that help communities like Bede get back on their feet when the rains finally come. Seeds and tools will be distributed, along with money so they can buy the things they need. Sustainable water sources will be developed so if the rains fail again they have something to fall back on.

As we leave the village, a group of women huddle around a shallow ditch covered in plastic tarpaulin and surrounded by a maze of brightly coloured jerry cans. They’ve heard there is a water truck arriving today and are anxious not to miss their share. “Without these deliveries I don’t know how we would survive, but we wish we didn’t have to rely on it,” says one woman. With the help of the Red Cross, by the next dry season she should have a water source in her village she can rely on instead.

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