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Magic wand needed in Ethiopia

Waldiya, North Wollo, Amhara, Ethiopia

There are days in this job when you wish you had a magic wand, when you just know that nothing you can say really matches up to the occasion.  Today was one of those days for me.

I was up early to write up my notes from yesterday and catch up on some unfinished work before heading out to drought-affected villages in Gubalafto and Habru districts. The dining room was full of tourists laughing and joking and a few, inevitably, complaining about the food, the service, their bed — all the usual things. They were off to see the churches carved in the rocks of Gambella, or to the fabulous castles in Gondor.

That’s part of the complex nature of the problems which face Ethiopia. They need the tourists because they contribute to the economy, and Ethiopia offers some of the most staggering visual and cultural experiences in return. But the tourists’ experiences contrast almost surreally with the hard lives of Amharan farmers who are facing the daily consequences of drought.

Accompanied by Worku, one of save the Children’s Woldiya-based emergency officers, Solomon, our driver for this week, and two local government agricultural staff, we set off, leaving the tourists to their briefing from a local guide.

We were going to visit a village in the lowlands of Gubalafto — a place called Kileadme. But some miles before we reached there we all asked Solomon to stop because of what we saw.

A farmer, Mengash Kalkay, was standing with his family and some neighbours among the ruins of his devastated crop. “The rains have been getting worse for five years now,” he told us. “But I planted in June and since then we have had just two short showers. The whole crop has gone. I only expected half of what we would have harvested a few years ago, but now we have nothing.”

Mengash tells us there are eight people in his family. Two of his children are in school and he will try to keep them attending, but it will be difficult. Many young people from his village have emigrated to get work overseas and this, he explains, means that a large part of the labour force has been lost. He puts a protective arm around two of his children. “These are bad times, I don’t know what we will do now”. And that’s when I really wished I had the magic wand.

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