“All that counts is to save human life’


Sandra Bulling, CI Communications Officer

July, 2011

In Borena in southern Ethiopia the last two rainy seasons have brought no water. The drought took one third of all livestock, leaving families without income.

Little Salad is sleeping soundly. Gamu Kamad, his mother, is very relieved. Just a few days ago, the 11-months old could do nothing but vomit. He could not crawl, he did not play; he was just too weak. In the past weeks, Gamud feed him only water – she had no money to buy milk. Most of her cattle died. In the Borena zone, in southern Ethiopia, the last two rainy seasons did not bring any water and a worrying drought has gripped the region. In the Moyale district, the land is brown and dusty. Bushes and trees have lost their last leaves, their trunks and branches reach naked into the air. A little green is left on thorny shrubberies and acacia trees, both either too dangerous or too high for cattle to reach.

Gamud and Salad have found help in a health center in the town of Moyale, run by the local government. Salad was weighed and screened. His diagnose: severe acute malnutrition. He was brought to the stabilization center, where he now receives therapeutic supplementary food, provided by CARE Ethiopia, until his condition improves and he reaches a normal weight for a boy of his age. His mother stays with him and receives food as well. “I was very worried about Salad,’ she explains. “We came here four days ago, but now Salad”s condition is already much better.’ She looks at the tiny bundle lying next to her, still sleeping calmly. “Before I brought him here, he could not open his eyes any more. He threw up the water I gave him. But now he gets stronger every day.’

The health centers in the Moyale district have experienced a rise in malnutrition cases for children under five years. Almost 500 severely malnourished children were admitted from January to June. In 2010, this was the rate for the entire year. In the Borena culture, children are given the most food. They eat first, followed by the father and then the mother. Parents give their children the little food they have, but now they have no groceries left and no money to buy some.

Livestock is life

The prices for cattle are the lowest in the past decade in Moyale. At the same time, prices for food have risen sharply. In a pastoralist society such as in Borena, people depend on their livestock. They are their income and source of nutrition – their life. When livestock die, people lose their assets. In the Borena zone, one third of all livestock have starved. “Even goats and camels find no pasture any longer. This very unique, as they are usually drought resistant animals’, says Mandefro Mekete, CARE Ethiopia”s Emergency Operations Coordinator. But it has never happened before that both the Hagaya autumn rains and the Genna spring rains have failed in Borena. Scientists credit this drought to La Nina, a weather phenomenon that changes weather patterns and causes drier conditions in East Africa.

Gamud has lost 36 of her 51 cattle to the drought. The residual cattle are too emaciated to give milk or to sell on the market. Her husband is trying to save the lives of the remaining ones by taking them to areas where pasture is still available. Some people migrate as far as 400 kilometers in search of water and pasture, putting pressure on the remaining grazing grounds. CARE, in close collaboration with the local government, opened 21 slaughter destocking sites to recover some value from emaciated and unproductive animals that would otherwise die and to prevent conflict that might arise from competition around scarce pasture grounds.

The smell of slaughtered meat hangs in the air. The bones of cattle are thrown into a square, deep pit. Bloods seeps away into the brown ground, leaving dark red streams on the earth. Hasalo Duba has come with two cows to the slaughter destocking site in Dima village. “Before the drought I had ten cattle. Six died already and I brought two here today. I have only two left now; only one of them gives milk,’ the 25-years old mother of six children says. She will receive 800 Birr (47 USD) per cattle which allows her to buy staple foods on the market. She will also get some hay and supplementary animal feed to save the life of her remaining two cattle. “Eight vulnerable families will receive the meat of the slaughtered cattle,’ Mandefro Mekete explains. “The slaughtering takes place with technical assistance from official meat inspectors, who ensure that the meat is safe for consumption.’ However, there is not much meat left on the bones of the barren cattle waiting in front of the slaughtering pit.

No rains expected to come soon

Malicha Galgalo has already received her money. The 40-year old wears a long black dress with red applications; she sits on top of a heap of white bags full of hay, surrounded by children. “I have to find a donkey to carry the bag home. I have lost 25 cows, only five survived,’ she says. Malicha believes that Moyale is in a very critical situation. “Before the drought, I could sell the milk and I had a steady income. But now I don”t earn any money and I have ten children to feed.’ She depends on food distributions from the government. With the 800 Birr she received for her cow Malicha bought one kilo of grain. “I will save the remaining money. I don”t expect the situation to improve, there will be no rain coming soon.’

The next rainy season is supposed to arrive in September or October. Until then, many pastoralists predict most if not all of their remaining cattle will starve. Some elderly already fear that the Hagaya rains, as the autumn rainy season is called, will fail as well. Kofobicha is 55 years old and has lived through several times of hardship. But the drought has never been as bad. “We don”t expect the next rainy season to come. Even if the Hagaya rains come, no cattle will be left by September,’ he forebodes. “But we don”t care about our livestock any more. All that counts now is to save human live. We have accepted that we need to fast, but who saves our children?’

Salad from Moyale town was lucky, he has been saved. Life has returned to him, thanks to CARE”s and the government”s interventions. But many more children and their parents will need assistance in the coming months. They need urgent humanitarian support, but they need also a long-term strategy to become more resilient to the impacts of drought. So Salad”s mother is able to buy him food when the next drought hits.

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