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Ethiopia: Regardless of scale of disaster we’ll help

The rainy season has definitely arrived in the Amhara region in Ethiopia where I’m based. On Saturday I went with a team from the office to visit an area affected by flooding. Before leaving I caught the early morning news and saw that the number of people killed in the floods in Pakistan had reached eight hundred. As we headed off for our own emergency assessment, it was obvious that this would be nothing close to that scale. But with people in need that didn’t make it any less important.

Damage caused to river bank by flooding in the Gobu River

With over 85% of the population in Ethiopia relying on agriculture for their livelihoods, the quality of the rains is so important and determines whether people have enough to eat from one season to the next. So it seems ironic that in a region which has so far this year experienced food shortages due to poor rains last year, we’re now seeing rains strong enough to cause flooding and damage homes and crops. This happened in Kobo – where a concrete river bank on the Gobu river was smashed away by a huge torrent of water from the mountains which then swept through the district of Wagga, flooding houses and destroying fields of crops.  By the time we visited the water had already washed away to the lowlands, leaving the river bed dry and we could drive right up to see the destruction to the river bank.

Tukuls were flooded when the water hit in the middle of the night and families were forced to escape and seek shelter in the local school

We saw traditional tukul homes flooded by the water and visited a local school in Wagga where nearly nearly 50 families are living because their homes have been destroyed or damaged. While the children seemed quite happy to be living in the sturdy, dry school buildings, their mothers told me that the cement buildings are very cold at night and that they don’t have enough beds, blankets, plastic sheets, grain and oil. The families living here were forced to flee their homes when the flood hit in the middle of the night. I met one woman who had struggled to escape as she had given birth just three days before. They are now surviving with whatever possessions they could rescue as they fled their homes or what they have received from the government. But living in the school can of course only be a temporary arrangement.

We visited some of the local farming land and saw fields of crops which had been destroyed when the flood water swept through. 280 hectares have been damaged which will have a significant impact on families who rely on those crops for their income and food. The government is currently looking for new land for these families. But they will have to start again from scratch.

Crops were destroyed by the flood waters leaving families without their only means of income and food

When we think about natural disasters we automatically think of those terrible earthquakes and tsunamis which cause the most devastating destruction and make the headlines across the world.

The response will require much less funding and man power than to the devastating Pakistan floods. But the concerns expressed by those affected are the same:  “where will we live, what can we eat, how can we start up our livelihoods again, how can we make sure our children are healthy and happy?”

And that’s why Save the Children has to respond according to the needs of those affected, regardless of the scale of the disaster.

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