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Ethiopia: “People won’t believe such a place exists on Earth”

“Tell them that you have been to a place where they have no food, they have no water, no schools and no health clinics.

“Tell them that you have been to this place.  People won’t be able to believe that such a place exists on earth.”

This is what elders in a village close to the Somalia border told me when I asked if they have any messages for the people who read my blog.

Sadly, many such places exist across the Horn of Africa.

Millions of people continue to be at risk of hunger and the situation is likely to deteriorate over the next few months.

A landscape transformed

Before visiting the refugee camps, I wanted to go to the Ethiopian villages near the Somalia border to meet and talk with people that have been affected by the drought.

We arrived in Bardale village to find the elders of the community engaged in a village meeting.

Discussions centred on the dire drought situation.

“This barren, dry and dusty area where we are sitting, used be lush and green.  Over the last four years, it is becoming a desert before our eyes,” said one elder.

Now dead cattle scatter the landscape.

The ones that didn’t die due to the drought died from eating plastic shopping bags that cling to twigs and branches. For hungry cattle, the shopping bags must look like fresh leaves.

Lost livelihoods

Livestock is usually the sole source of livelihood for the people who live in Bardale.

Many men said that animal numbers were dwindling rapidly, first the cattle that used to graze in the bushlands would die, then the goats, and finally the sheep.

“We cannot even sell them, the market price is less than half of what it was last year and there are no buyers for weak cattle,” said one man.

The loss of livestock means that many people in Bardale are missing meals and are forced to watch their children’s health deteriorate because there is no food.

It must be agonizing for the parents. What would you say to your son or daughter when they ask for dinner and there is none?

Searching for ways to cope

Despite the fact that even the very old men said they have never seen a situation this bad, the determination and resolve to find solutions was inspiring.

Because they are mainly unskilled and illiterate, moving to another area to find work is difficult.

Drilling for water and making wells is expensive as the water table is deep and the water is salty.

Although they truly appreciated the efforts of the humanitarian community, they are wise enough to know that water trucking and food distributions are only temporary solutions.

There is really not much they can do at this stage of the drought, except wait for the skies to open and give rain.

The forecasts for the next few months are not encouraging and most people are resigned to the fact that there will be no new harvest until next year.

Even if that harvest is good, it still may not be enough.

What lies ahead

While much media attention is on the people arriving in the refugee camps, many villages outside the refugee camps are also affected by the drought.

After arriving in Bardale, it became immediately clear that the major work still lies ahead if we are to avoid a catastrophe here.

This blog was written by Khurram Masood from Save the Children, Ethiopia.

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