With each season drier than the last, families are getting closer and closer to losing everything
February 24, 2022, Adrienne Bolen
In decades past, on the plains of Adadle district in the Somali region of Ethiopia, grass grew so high that lions could hide there, people say. Not anymore.
Over the past four months, community centers in the district have been deserted; more than 80 households went in search of water. But this is not the first time Hana, a 49-year-old grandmother, has had to migrate in search of water. This time around, however, his cattle are too weak to stand let alone travel in the 40°C heat.
This drought, which threatens 13 million people in the Horn of Africa, has already wiped out 17 of his cows. Now she is down to five, which is devastating for a pastor. (Pastoralists differ from farmers in that they grow their own food, but all of their livelihoods come from raising and trading livestock rather than produce.)
Either way, Hana resigns herself to staying put with the seven kids she’s the only one to take care of. “Whatever happens, happens – but we can’t move,” she said. “We are forced to stay here and focus on the little we can do to take care of our livestock, and hope that we will survive.”
Normally, Hana and her family grow enough grain, mostly maize and teff, to sustain themselves through the three-month dry season, but in recent years they have only been able to produce for a few weeks. . When one bad rainy season is followed by another, for years it is impossible to fully recover.
To keep her remaining animals alive, Hana has no choice but to feed them with straw picked from the thatched roof of her house. With no money to buy fresh fodder, that’s all he has left to provide them. “It’s barely enough to keep them alive – they haven’t been able to produce milk for over a year,” she says.
In addition to providing emergency food aid to drought-affected people in the Somali region, the world food program (PAM) provides micro-insurance to pastoralists like Hana to protect their livestock from climatic extremes such as drought.
More than 25,000 families in the region, representing 90 percent of those WFP supports with insurance, received compensation at the end of December to help them cope with the devastating impact of the drought. A total of $900,000 was distributed to those most affected.
Hana has pooled her US$35 payment with her neighbors to buy 10,000 liters of water – a top priority for those who cannot migrate.
On the road to Hana lives Abdulahi, who throughout his 70s has seen traditional methods of rain-fed agriculture become obsolete as rainy seasons grow shorter and weaker.
“The climate has changed, the weather has changed,” he says. “We know this is contributing to the drought we are experiencing.”
Each year, the dry season in the Somali region is hotter and drier than the previous one. This means families could go from seven animals one year to three the next – coming ever closer to losing everything.
Abdulahi looks around and laughs when asked how many animals he has left. “Well, it depends if you count that cow,” he said. “He will probably be dead by tomorrow – can’t stand and has been suffering in the hot sun for days.”
In October, Abdulahi began moving his family of 16 from his village closer to the river 7 km away, to gain access to water. Forced to adapt to climate change, he learned new irrigation techniques, which he is now funding with a recent payout from WFP-backed insurance.
He used the money from the payment in creative ways: to buy fuel for a small generator that pumps water from a stream to irrigate a plot of land to grow fodder for his cattle.
With funding from Sweden and Denmark, WFP is injecting peak support during the dry season to ensure livestock can survive. But as the climate crisis makes it increasingly difficult for pastoralists in southern Ethiopia to grow food and care for their livestock, new long-term solutions are needed.
With more funding, WFP would be able to build on the work it is already doing to change lives in the region, such as delivering early warning messages and cash transfers to help pastoralists prepare. climate shocks before they strike and to run school feeding programs for children. whose families have been affected by the drought.
WFP has already supported 12,000 pastoralists with seeds and fertilizers as well as training in small-scale and drought-tolerant farming techniques and entrepreneurial skills to help them start businesses and diversify their livelihoods.
In the face of larger and more frequent climate emergencies, these activities are essential and the cheapest way for WFP to save the lives and livelihoods of pastoralists in Ethiopia. To expand its response to the Somali, Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples regions, WFP urgently needs US$219 million – that way it can ensure pastoralists like Hana and Abdulahi don’t sink further in food insecurity.