2021-2022 Trócaire Annual ReportLearn More
Protracted drought in East Africa has resulted in more than 8.5 million people, including 4.2 million children, facing dire water shortages across the region
The Omo River winds its way through the open plains of Southern Ethiopia, emptying into Lake Turkana on the border with Kenya. For centuries, farmers have relied on the river – the largest Ethiopian river outside the Nile Basin – for water to drink, wash, irrigate their crops and sustain their animals.
But in recent years the river has flooded from the overflow of a dam constructed for commercial sugar cane farming, destroying the homes and livelihoods of thousands of families.
“We lost our house, all of our possessions, our crops, everything,” said Bute, a farmer and village elder from Dassench in the South Omo Zone in Southern Ethiopia.
“It happened very quickly. The water came in the night when we were sleeping, my wife and I ran away holding our children. We didn’t have time to do anything, we could only run with our seven children and ourselves.”
Bute and his wife Burre are just two of the 36,000 people who are estimated to have left their homes in the Dassench area due to flooding since 2020.
“Our home is now underwater, there is nothing for us there. The government had a boat to save people’s lives, because we were all swamped by water. They helped us to evacuate from the area. Some people were able to escape, but the place is still underwater. The water is now dirty and unusable.”
Like thousands of other families, Bute and Burre relocated to a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP) in neighbouring Lokolo village. There are five camps in the area, which is facing a severe drought due to climate change. The only source of water is one solar powered water tank that was built by Caritas with funding from Trócaire, CAFOD and SCIAF (CST). CST is also on the ground distributing cash to 700 vulnerable households to buy food from local markers.
“There are many times that drought comes in my life, but this is the worst so far,” Bute said.
“Before we could manage by selling our cattle, but now we are totally dependent on aid from organisations and the government. If it wasn’t for Caritas and CST, you wouldn’t find anybody around here.”
Ethiopia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Kenya, are in the grip of the worst drought in more than 40 years. The number of people suffering from chronic hunger worldwide has climbed to more than 800 million as of 2022. That’s one in every 10 people in the world.
According to the UN, the protracted drought has led to a water crisis, with more than 8.5 million people, including 4.2 million children, facing dire water shortages across the region. Water scarcity is killing livestock, drying up crops and driving families from their homes in search of water.
The water tank is close to Bute’s home, but he says on any given day, there could be up to 100 people in front of him waiting to collect water.
“Because of the drought, the water source isn’t very predictable. There is somebody who is in charge and who calls everybody when there is water. We don’t know when to go, we wait for the tank to be full and the announcement is made.”
“We drink it, boil shofero (a local drink), and we wash things. If we had more water, we would wash our clothes more, wash our bodies more. Before, when we used to live close to the Turkana Lake we would wash and bathe regularly. The water in the Turkana now is dirty and unclean.”
Before Bute was forced to leave his home, he had more than 200 donkeys, goats and cows.
“That time was really good, when I had cattle. I could always drink milk when I wanted. I had milk from the animals, and we could slaughter the animals and eat them as well. With my children and my wife. It has been two years since I’ve had milk and meat.”
Bute said that his seven children have left him and his wife in search for a better life. He hasn’t seen his children in more than a year.
“They are so desperate and hopeless that they have left us. They left us to find food, to go fish by the river and the lake. We are so sorry that we don’t have something for them to eat. We are sorry we can’t live together. If we had food, we would live together and live life together as a family.”
His hope now is that the area will receive more water sources.
“We pray and hope for rain. We appeal for people to give us food because here there is continuous drought, we can’t farm, there is no rain. We have no other chance except for this help.”
“A good life is when there is enough rain and the grass comes out, and there is enough to feed the animals. That is so wonderful, and that is a good life.”
“Before the drought this is what life was like. It was green, we had grasses, trees, lots of pasture for our livestock. People are now displaced and have left the area, but lots of people used to live here once upon a time. They left because of the drought and then the floods.”
“We thank those who have supplied this water, and we pray for them because we cannot do anything else. We thank them. There are families worse off than us.”
Trócaire CEO, Caoimhe de Barra, said that this Christmas families in East Africa need the support of the Irish public more than ever.
“While the cost of living may be the main story at home this festive season, it is the onslaught of drought, hunger and the impact of climate change that will grip the people in East Africa.”
“For families in the region, water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource with more than 8.5 million people, including 4.2 million children, facing dire water shortages across the region. The drought is the worst we have ever seen in Trócaire and, frighteningly, a fifth and even sixth consecutive drought is now being predicated. It is one of the worst climate-related emergencies of the past 40 years.”
Ms de Barra called on the Irish public to support the people in East Africa in any way they can this Christmas.
You can give a water gift of love this Christmas
Trócaire’s range of Gifts of Love this Christmas includes options to support communities with clean water. This can help prevent deadly diseases like cholera and typhoid and help large families like Fartun’s in drought-stricken countries in Asia and Africa have safe water to drink.
There are 21 Trócaire gifts to choose from this year. As well as water you can buy gifts of chicks, beehives and solar lamps ranging in price from €5 to €1000.