Water shortages destabilise Ethiopia and wider region

  • Emergency
  • Ethiopia

A major food crisis triggered by drought and conflict is affecting more than 20 million people in East Africa. Concerned by both factors, Handicap International is working in Ethiopia to ensure the most vulnerable people have access to humanitarian aid and provide malnourished children with physiotherapy.

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Bilisuma school in Oromia region, East Haraghe Zone, Fedis district (Ethiopia)
Bilisuma school in Oromia region, East Haraghe Zone, Fedis district (Ethiopia)

“The drought in eastern and south-eastern Ethiopia mostly affects pastoral people who are forced by water shortages to move their livestock, such as cows and sheep, elsewhere, creating tension between villagers who, overnight, have to share the same pasture land and water points,” says Fabrice Vandeputte, head of Handicap International’s programmes in Ethiopia.

“Many schools close because of water shortages. Even if they do stay open, lots of children don’t go, because they have to fetch water. It can take hours to reach a well. The closest water point to Bilisuma school, which I visited a few days ago, is 10 kilometres away.”

“Food is also in short supply because harvests are bad in some parts of eastern Ethiopia. And the short rainy season, which usually starts in early March, hasn’t arrived yet. This rain is vital for the next crops in three months. Some 5.5 million people are affected by the food crisis, or 5% of the Ethiopian population.”

Helping vulnerable people to cope

“In the eastern region of Dire Dawa, we implement three types of action related to the drought: in 100 villages we make sure the solutions found by villagers to cope with climate crises include people with disabilities: for example, when villagers receive drought-resistant seeds, we check that people with disabilities are included in the distributions; if there’s a risk of flooding, flags are used to alert people with hearing impairments to the danger. We also supply crutches, wheelchairs, and so on, so that they can move around and work in the fields like everyone else.”

“Lastly, we make children aware of the risks of domestic and sexual violence, a problem that’s far from insignificant in this region. We visit schools to provide students with information. We also work in coordination with the police, the justice department and health facilities to effectively manage cases of abuse and violence. You wouldn’t think there was a link with drought, but there is: under these sorts of circumstances, lots of children have to leave school to do domestic tasks outside the home, such as look for water, which makes them more vulnerable and exposed.”

Supporting malnourished children in refugee camps

“Another factor specific to Ethiopia is the presence of hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly from South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, fleeing civil war and famine.”

“The region of Gambella, in the west, is not affected by drought, but currently welcomes more than 250,000 South Sudanese refugees fleeing war and famine. In the camps, from May onwards, we will provide stimulation physiotherapy for severely malnourished children under the age of five to prevent them from suffering developmental delays due to malnutrition and the onset of permanent disabilities.”

“We also make sure the water points and sanitary facilities set up are accessible to people with reduced mobility.”

Published 04/04/17

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