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Communities in Ethiopia face total loss of livelihoods

Samson Haileyesus from CST Together (joint office of Catholic agencies CAFOD, SCIAF and Trócaire) reports from Borana in the Oromia Region of southern Ethiopia where livelihoods have been devastated by three consecutive droughts. 

qola roba and other elders in borana, ethiopia

Qolo Roba, Gadana Roba and Aroqa Huqa of the Dembi Peasant’s Association in Borana

The atmosphere is sombre at the office of the Dembi Peasants’ Association in Borana, just 27 kilometres from the border with Kenya.

The village elders have gathered to discuss how they can get by after experiencing three droughts in three consecutive years. 

“We are pastoralists [livestock herding] and agro-pastoralists [agriculture and livestock], our main resource is livestock and the little crops we grow – we have lost it all. It will probably take us a long time to recover, and that’s if this dry spell ends,” says Gadana Roba. 

The continuous droughts have baffled the elders. There is no memory of such a calamity among the community of just under 1000 households.

In May this year in Borana, an additional 135,577 vulnerable people have fallen into ‘acute food insecurity’. By late April this year around 50 per cent of the livestock had died due to lack of pastures and water.

“We are now a village of only children, women and the elderly”

“We have all lost cattle and what little remained from our stock we have sent across the border some 200 kilometres into Kenya. We are now a village of only children, women and the elderly. Our boys and men have all left the villages herding the cattle to places where there is hope for water and pasture,” said Roh Gotelo, head of this local office of the Dembi Peasants’ Association. 

Agudo Gelgelo

Agudo Gelgelo from Dembi village

Agudo Gelgelo is a 42-year-old mother of five children, four boys and one girl. Agudo is among the many in Dembi village who are barely surviving the devastating drought in Borana.

Agudo is receiving support from the government’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) and supplements her family’s income by selling firewood.

A lone parent, Agudo is always at her wit’s end just trying to get through each day. 

Previously her extended family would support her but the three consecutive droughts have forced many to look inwards rather than support each other. 

“Everyone has been affected by the drought. But single mothers like me are the most affected as we have to provide everything for the family. My husband passed away many years ago and the family relies solely on me,” said Agudo.

“What we desperately need now is grass”

The situation is the same 10km to the east for the Bee Dee Peasants’ Association of 482 households. 

“We usually have a three month rainy season. But currently the rains are late by four months, and then we only had between seven to eight days of erratic rains”, said Alekeno Golicha, village elder of Bee Dee.

Rains come in Borana twice a year: the main rain (Ganna) occurring from March to May which accounts for around two-thirds of the total rainfall, and the small rain (Hagayya) which occurs from September to November. 

“You can see there is no grass. What we desperately need now is grass. The soil will not even let the little rains seep into it, it would only flow over it. The grass cannot support our cattle as the rains were not sufficient enough to allow the grass to recover,” Alekeno said pointing to barren patches of red soil amidst scantly distributed greenery. 

barren land in borana

Now barren and desolate, this formerly plush farmland was used to grow maize, wheat and beans

The pastoralists have had to buy expensive feed to keep their animals going, but that is quickly becoming unaffordable for them.

“As pastoralists we do not look for money, we live on milk and meat. The price of our cattle has plummeted significantly what would fetch something between 12,000 to 15,000 Birr (£400 – £500) on a normal year now fetches 6,000 birr (£200). That is if they can make the distance to the market without collapsing. Initially we balked at the idea of selling our cattle now we have no choice and it has now become a buyer’s market,” Bilalo Bunaya another resident from Bee Dee.

Fighting illness and malnutrition

“Milk is usually reserved for children, the elderly and the sick. Without milk we have nothing to offer as a form of nourishment. This is something up to God, what we can do is simply pray and hope that things can turn for the better,” said Tarik from Dembi.

CST and its partner Community Initiatives Facilitations and Assistance (CIFA) provided 5,483 households with veterinary care support providing lifesaving drugs for livestock in the first quarter of this year.

“The medicines for our cattle came at a critical time. The drugs helped our cattle to recover but nature has become our most potent adversary if we could talk to it we would either have surrendered or discussed terms. We are only pastoralists and we have nothing besides our livestock. If the rains don’t come we can only expect ticks and more drought”, concluded Tarik. 

Wide-reaching drought crisis

7.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the drought situation in Ethiopia. 

That is in addition to the regular 7.9 million people already receiving support from the country’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP). 

Neighbouring countries Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia are also experiencing the terrible impact of prolonged and recurrent drought. 

At time of writing, 25 million people are experiencing extreme food shortages across the four countries.

CST Together will continue to help the pastoralists of Borana and others affected by the drought in the region. 

You can support this work by donating to Trócaire’s East Africa Appeal.

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