Ethiopia – Going thirsty in Afar
My first field visit to Afar started with preparation the night before when I made sure to put a 2litre water bottle in the freezer.
It was as if I thought I would be able to bare one of the hottest places on earth (sometimes reaching up to 50 degree Celsius!) if only I had some icy water.
But by time we reached Metehara, located merely 200 kms away from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, the heat was getting so strong that we needed to open the windows and my water had already completely melted and turned lukewarm. So much for best laid plans…
As we continued towards our final destination, Seifu (my communications colleague) explained that the wide area that we were passing by used to be full of life; with zebras, ostriches and long grasses stretching as far as the eye can see.
In fact, during Emperor Haile Selassie’s time this used to be a park. But now there is nothing here but short dry shrubs, water-thirsty land and the occasional piece of livestock watched over by children.
As I wondered about global warming and its impact on Ethiopia, we passed by a group of women carrying yellow jerry-cans filled with water on their two donkeys; almost certainly making their long way home before nightfall. Most of the time these women leave their children at home or with neighbours.
The next morning, women carrying jerry-cans either on camels, donkeys or by themselves became an all too frequent sight.
Water at $1 a litre
Dechoto, a city flooded with empty plastic water bottles is indicative of the need for bottled water in Afar. These bottles sell for 13-15 birr (approximately USD $1) for 1litre. I don’t know how people can afford it.
It saddened me to see children on the side of the road asking for water. Carrying empty water bottles they plead with drivers and cars passing by to get some water to drink.
There is no doubting that doing so exposes them to high risks of car accidents as they run to pick up discarded bottles as cars and trucks pass by at high speed.
I can’t fathom why they are neither accompanied by an adult or in school as it’s the middle of the day. However, I learn later that one of the reasons that children drop out of school or miss classes is simply because there is hardly any water here.
Struggle to survive
Many are discouraged to walk the many hours to school as they get thirsty. As one of the school principals told me: “Most of the students get very thirsty. Water is our biggest problem here. Without food, you can stay for a week but without water you can’t even last a day.”
Thinking about how people live in this place and looking forward to heading back to Addis we saw something very surprising: a group of men playing football in what felt like 45 degree heat.
I guess for the people here home is home and life simply goes on!
Amerti Lemma is a Communications Coordinator for Save the Children