Older Ethiopians; witnesses to a changing climate

24 November 2009

As millions of people face hunger in Ethiopia due to the worst drought in a decade, HelpAge International is stepping up its emergency response programme in the country.

Last week clouds gathered over the lowlands, but, according to HelpAge Ethiopia Country Director Alison Rusinow, the rains have come too late to bring much relief. 

"Drought is nothing new to this part of Africa, but what is different according to many of the older people we have spoken to, is the frequency with which it hits. People experienced drought every ten years or so, but now it is almost constant. Older people may not be using the terminology, but many attribute the changing patterns to climate change. 

"With drought now such a frequent occurrence, it is imperative to change the focus of development interventions to activities that accept drought and prevent it from causing the kind of hunger that is once again facing the people of Ethiopia.  Help Age International is working with older people in drought affected communities to reduce the risks in the long term and ensure there is enough food at all times."

Six hundred and twenty kilometres south of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, lies the small town of Dubluk. Local NGO Action for Development, with support from HelpAge International, has been running a water and sanitation project here since April 2009. It was at the recently built cattle troughs and the site of the new generator that we met Abdulla Alli, a 99 year-old mechanic.

When asked about the droughts Abdulla said, "The weather has changed completely. There used to be a lot more rain previously but now it is dry. I think the weather started changing about 30 years ago."

Wako Jaldesa, a 96 year- old pastoralist from Borena agreed that droughts were intensifying. In years gone by, Wako would cultivate a plot of land and grow maize, sorghum and haricot beans. "When the rains were good and predictable we could sell what we didn't need and use the money for essential items. Now, however, our yields have decreased and we can only harvest once a year if we are lucky".

Similarly after facing consecutive rainfall failures in 2007 and early parts of 2008, the 2009 Gu (July to September) rains have failed in most parts of the south east of the country in the Somali region.

HelpAge International is responding to this situation through two projects funded by the German Foreign Ministry, through HelpAge Deutschland, and the UN Humanitarian Response Fund.

In Borena zone, HelpAge is supporting an emergency programme targeting 15,000 people and 30,000 livestock in drought- affected pastoral communities.  This project finishes in December, but HelpAge is now appealing for help to fund plans for more projects with the same communities.  The new project aims to ensure that the water resources which have been created are used to develop new ways of growing food and feeding animals.  This would mean that future droughts to not lead to hunger in the area.

In Shinille zone, the overall goal of the project is provision of life saving water and sanitation services to enable 60,000 vulnerable, drought affected pastoralist older people, their families and communities to better manage drought. It will also include the provision of non-food emergency items (water containers, and sanitation and hygiene items) for over 18,000 people.

As Lencho Deda, 72 years old, points out:

"There is no difference between us and our animals, so we all drink from the same pond. Even though the water looks muddy, we are happy. Our work is hard but the cattle don't know that I am an old man. We work hard until we die."

In total, these projects will benefit 75,000 people and 230,000 livestock affected by water shortages.


Notes to Editors

HelpAge International is a global network of organisations helping older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. www.helpage.org.

Recent photographs of our programme in Ethiopia with case studies of the older people quoted in the above article can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/agehelps/sets/72157622861101530/  


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