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East Africa crisis: Staying positive during hard times in Borena

19 Apr 2012

The year began with a devastating drought for the pastoralists and farmers of the Borena zone. Thousands of families lost their livestock and their crops, and were left with deteriorating livelihoods.

November 2011 brought about the much longed for Hagaya rains, filling the water ponds and trenching the thirst of the land, the livestock and the people. In contrast to the situation observed in July and August 2011, the landscape in Borena appeared greener. The termite hills, that then could be noticeably seen, have been surrounded by green flourishing bushes and trees, and now jointly form the scenery. The cattle being driven along the roads appeared to be regenerated, they were visibly strong and healthy. Things are looking up.Liben Bule, 88 year old pastoralist with one of his sons.

HelpAge's response

The older beneficiaries of of HelpAge partners Action For Development , SOS Sahel and Gayo Pastorilaist Development Initiative, have been receiving 50kg of white maize and 5kg of haricot beans every month for a period of three months. Additionally, they have been receiving ETB 200 (US$ 11.4) in cash transfers. Some older people have also benefited from cash for work in bush clearing and pond rehabilitation activities offered by our partners. With the money received, older people have been able to fill the gaps in their basic needs such as sugar, salt, oil, and clothing.

Liben Wario Bule, an 88-year-old agro-pastoralist from Dire district, said: "My boys (Arero, Bika and Galgalo) have also been doing work on a pond on my behalf for which we have been paid. They worked eight hours a day for three months on rehabilitating a local pond. With some of the money, the boys bought four chickens because they multiply quickly, now we have 14 chickens. We sell the eggs and the boys sometimes cook and eat the eggs. They have also bought a goat."

Spirits remain optimistic

However, the weather is posing a problem. Large clouds still cover the skies and the recent rains have already been later and less than expected. The forecasts are dim and the A Somali lady carries water back to her household along with two of her children.weather cycles have been unreliable. However, the traditional prdeictions have been positive. As a result, many older pastoralists in the districts of Dillo, Dire and Miyo have planted seeds of corn and maize; remaining positive and hoping for the best in the upcoming months.

Refugees in Borena zone

Tribal conflicts across the Kenyan borders have resulted in hundreds of Borena and Gerbra people coming into Ethiopia to seek refuge. Many have left their animals, land and belongings, behind the border when fleeing from the shooting. They have no money or wealth to buy food or other necessities and are entirely dependent on their relatives.

For the past two months the refugees have been receiving support through local organisations and groups, including food, wheat, rice and water for their household. My interaction with refugees from the Oda village revealed that the most urgent needs for older refugees, are soft foods, mattresses to sleep on, clothing to keep warm, water and utensils for cooking. 

Rehabilitate livelihoods of vulnerable groups

We are supporting 4,000 older people by providing cash transfers for their basic needs, cash for work activities such as pond rehabilitation, food and training on rangeland management for community leaders.

Furthermore, HelpAge has begun its work towards supporting an estimated 1,700 older refugees through the provision of food items including multi-vitamin foods as well as non-food items examples of which are simple building materials for temporary shelters, blankets and water containers of age-friendly sizes.

We hope to rehabilitate the livelihoods of the most vulnerable older people and their dependents in Borena.

Read more about HelpAge's work in East Africa.

Read our six month update for East Africa.

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Author profile

Erna Mentesnot Hintz
Country: Ethiopia
Job title: Communications Officer

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