Cafod is helping Ethiopia’s embattled farmers, says Pascale Palmer Walking slowly across the glare of the Sarite saltpan in southern Ethiopia small groups of cattle led by herders go in search of grassland and water. Some are having to travel for days as their land is engulfed by a stubborn drought that worsens with the continued failure of the rains.
Here in the Borana region people are used to drought. The pastoralist communities have built their customs and behaviours around the fact that droughts come as part of the cycle of their environment. In the past, pastoralist communities would expect to lose livestock to the dry times when grazing land would retreat and water sources disappear. And as the drought receded, families would rebuild their herds as the sweet young shoots reappeared and life once again returned to Borana.
But the people of Borana are finding themselves unable to bounce back from the droughts in their region because one drought and failed rain is coming so hard on the heels of the previous one. Changes in climate in Borana are pushing an area already at the extremes of weather events a few notches further along the climate spectrum. What is in fact happening is that the carefully calibrated buffer zones that used to make surviving the drought possible are being eked away, leaving these people close to the edge of existence.
During this present drought – the same one that is affecting the Horn and east Africa region, more than 300,000 livestock have died in Borana and many more are weak and sick. Those vulnerable cattle, sheep and goats are finding it increasingly difficult to trek for hours in the heat for the prize of water.
Qarchero is a pastoralist from Sarite village. He had brought his animals to drink water at ponds cleared out and repaired in partnership with Cafod on the outskirts of the village. As part of the project local communities were paid to help clear silt from the ponds – one for drinking water and one for livestock. In this way the communities gain wages to buy food and have ponds that can capture and hold water when the rains come. Qarchero has four children aged 11, eight, four and one. Last year he owned 50 livestock.
Qarchero said: “It is not this most recent failed rain that has been the hardest: it is the one before. It is that one that killed my livestock. I used to have 20 cattle, now I have five. I used to have 30 sheep and goats and now I have just six left. And now I am having to sell cattle at a low price so I can buy grain for the family to eat. There isn’t enough to eat.
“If I had not gained money helping clear this pond, I don’t know what would have happened. And if we hadn’t cleared the ponds we wouldn’t have water for us and our livestock. There are few water holes near here and what there is will dry up very soon. Some people walk all morning to collect water and bring their animals to drink.” Everywhere you go in Borana over the past year people have had to watch their livestock die due to the drought and the lack of substantial rain for 18 months. Most have lost at least half their herd, and now the pastoralist communities, that rely on livestock, which in turn rely on rain, are facing the fact that there is a good chance next month’s expected rains will not fall.
Qarchero added: “We are afraid of the future. The droughts are coming more often and even the strength of the droughts is more. Now they seem to be coming every year. We are afraid that the drought will get worse. We are afraid of the future.” But the truth is that Ethiopia is coping better than many other countries hit hard by the drought. Last week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the crisis in the Horn of Africa “grows deeper by the day” but said that that successful projects in Ethiopia and Kenya had helped ensure that, despite this being the worst drought in six decades, there is no famine in those countries.
He said: “This is a profound achieve ment. We will see drought again with increasing frequency. But drought need not become famine.” Cafod and its partners in Borana have been working with communities to help them gain more tools and skills to be able to cope with the present drought and prepare themselves for what may be an even more difficult future. Cafod supporters have given an incredible £4.5million direct by Cafod for the East Africa Appeal. In partnership with sister agencies Trocaire and Sciaf Cafod is using that money to protect the livelihoods of the people of Borana: it is ensuring people have access to food and have the ability to adapt to their changing environment.
In Borana water projects have given 20,000 people and 80,000 livestock access to water. Twenty water committees have also received the training needed to look after their ponds and wells and support knowledge sharing in the community. More than 400 hectares of bush have been reclaimed as grassland by the clearance of acacia trees, offering more than 90,000 weak livestock and calves grazing land during the drought. More than 1,400 households have benefited from the establishment of cooperatives, including soap-making and honey production.
Dejene Fikre coordinates Cafod’s joint drought response project in Borana.
He said: “To the people who have given to Cafod, first of all thank you for giving attention to Borana-it is important that people give during the crisis times of the drought and we thank you for this. Without people giving there can be no work here in Borana.
“But we mustn’t focus only when the crisis comes, when it is being talked about in the media. There needs to be investment at other times. You must remember that drought is known to these people. It is part of their lives; so they can cope if given help to be prepared. We will save more lives if we can invest in preparedness, so that people are ready for the worse droughts. Please remember this and help us continue this good work.” This Harvest Fast Day please continue your support for the people of Borana and others affected by the East Africa drought. To give, please go to Cafod.org.uk.
Pascale Palmer is Cafod’s senior press officer (policy and campaigns)