Surviving the drought

06/12/2011

Liben Wario Bule

Like many of my colleagues who recently visited Borana, I observed prosperous landscapes of cultivated fields and dense forests on the way there. To my astonishment, the dry arid landscapes of Arsi Negelle which I had driven past but four months ago had transformed into remarkable green pastures. It's amazing what effect seasonal rain can have. In Borana zone, however, the landscape is drier and increasingly the trees, mainly acacia, are sparse.

The major concern is food followed by water. Older people lack the funds to buy sufficient food and water for their large households (their children and grandchildren). Furthermore, even if there was money, there is a shortage of food in the local market which means the rations and meals per day have to be reduced.
 
Most cattle sheds we drove past stood empty. I was told by the local partner that more than 100,000 carcasses had been burnt earlier. Liben Bule had been a farmer all his life. He lost all of his livestock and crops. It must be devastating to have the remains of what was once your wealth lying around lifeless and worthless. 
 
Interview with Liben
 
"I moved here 16 years ago from Arero district to escape a conflict which was going on at the time.  I used to look after our livestock. Now, I spend my days taking care of my grandchildren.  
 
"I owned 20 cattle: eleven of them starved to death. I had 30 goats, but I sold them to buy animal feed. Then I sold the remaining nine cattle to buy medication for my son. I received less money than usual, but they were on the verge of death. Now I have no animals of any kind.  I also used to grow teff, wheat, beans and sorghum. But the lack of rainfall meant I lost all my crops as well. 
 
"Now I have to buy all our food from the local market. The drought has caused a shortfall in the market supply and so prices have risen.  Food is very expensive these days. My family and I can only afford to ‘taste’ rather than eat food in the evenings. 
 
"In the mornings, we have tea with salt. Before, we ate three times a day. My favorite was maize prepared with butter. Dairy products are important in our culture but we can’t get them anymore.  We have maize, thanks to the cash I get from Action for Development (Age UK/HelpAge’s implementing partner).
 
"I have never seen an emergency like this one before. I have noticed the rains decreasing over the past few years. We used to migrate to sites of abundant vegetation to feed our animals. But all districts have been affected. No rain has fallen, not even for one day.  I fear this trend will continue. In desperate times, the community used to support the vulnerable: this is no longer possible. Everyone is struggling."
 
Erna Mentesnot Hintz
HelpAge International