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Ethiopia drought impacts on livelihoods, health and a whole way of life

12 Jul 2011

Carcasses lined the road as he headed to BoranaI travelled to Borana in Southern Ethiopia with my colleague Ahmed from our Ethiopia office.

We were visiting to interview older people about the current situation in the area.

We spoke to the Borana Postoral Zone Leader, our partner there and also interviewed community members of two different kebeles or villages in Borana.

A single village can span up to 100 kilometres in diameter and be made up of around five clusters.

Lack of livestock is causing food crisis

According to the Pastoral Zone Leader, 250,000 livestock have died in the last 14 months in Borana alone due to the drought. This has had a huge impact on people's livelihoods and has caused a major food crisis.

Driving out to the remote village clusters I could already see the devastating effects of the drought as we passed dead cattle along the way, lying on dry, red earth. In the Kobibebo cluster most households have recently lost between five and seven cattle each.

The most frustrating thing was that every morning I would wake up to a cover of thick black rainclouds but it just wouldn't open up! Rain relief never came while I was there and still hasn't.

Walking 26km for water

Speaking to community members in the villages it came to light that some people have to walk 26 kilometres to get to drinking water, which is inconceivable to me. Of course, this distance is absolutely impossible to manage for older people.

Whereas normally, people would eat two or three meals of maize and tea a day, that number has now dwindled to once per day or nothing at all. I was told that the cost of maize, which is the main diet in the area, has risen from 2 birr per kg (GBP 0.08) to 7-8 birr per kg (GBP 0.24) and is also often not available.

Older people suffer most as they prioritise feeding the younger generation before themselves. This lack of food leaves them weak and affects their immune system. There is generally an increase in diseases affecting the whole community because of the lack of food.

Drought is devastating a whole way of life

The drought has also affected older people's roles in their communities and their shelter. Older people have an important role of problem solving and conflict management between families and clans. However, this has been hampered as they cannot get to meeting places as easily and have to cope with the drought first and foremost.

Their shelter has been affected because the long grass they use for the roofs of their huts is not available anymore. Now the huts only have branches as roofing instead of having the grass to complete it too. This means they do not have a fully secure home and they are not protected from the elements.

After my visit to the area it became clear to me that assistance is urgently needed to combat the many effects of this devastating drought.

HelpAge's work is supported by our sister organisation Age UK. Please donate to Age UK's East Africa appeal for vulnerable older people affected by the devastating drought in Ethiopia.

Age UK is raising money together with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) for the East Africa Crisis Appeal. The DEC is a consortium of 14 aid agencies working together in times of disasters and emergencies.

Read more news on the east Africa crisis.

Your comments

Malgorzata Duke

Reading the blog one can clearly visualized the situation in Ethiopia. Everybody who is reading should act - we are "one world" and should feel responsible for every being on this planet.


Immediate action is important, and the public in UK as well as the UK government has started donating money. However,the resource should be used to address some of the major root causes of the problem. For me giving sustainable solution for the water shortage will help to address many problems in the area- Water projects will enable people( including older people and vulnerable women and children) to have access to water for household consumption( drinking, sanitation and hygiene) and grow crop. Above all, availability of water will enable the Borena people to grow animal fodder and have will enable them to have water for livestock since their livelihood depends more on animal production and marketing. The water table of the area is going down from time to time;therefore, water projects should include bring water from distance highland areas that have water potential, borehole construction in areas that have the ground water , and sustainable rainwater harvesting. Option one( bring water from potential areas) doesn't mean water trucking/transportation that some NGOs are doing because it is not sustainable solution for Borena people.

Lemessa Daba

Yeap! It reflects the reality on the ground. Now it high time to run for saving peoples' life for moral duty bearers.

Nadien Suliman

this is really sad i might donate some money for them because i really feel sorry for them and we are living really well and healthy but they have to walk 26km for water poor them please help donate some money because they are suffering imagine thats you right now you would not like it to drink dirty water for their own good

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Dominika Kronsteiner
Job title: Programme Officer

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.