Preparing for drought: reflections from Ethiopia

by Helen Asnake, Christian Aid Ethiopia
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 10:02 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Can alternative livelihoods help people in Ethiopia's South Omo deal with climate hazards and reduce losses and damage?

Today in Ethiopia, we are marking Earth Day, which gives us an opportunity to reflect on the climate challenges affecting our country. Ethiopia is among the developing countries most vulnerable to climate hazards. Drought, floods and rainfall variability are the major triggering events that, over the past many years, have been reasons for the loss and damage of lives and livelihoods, particularly in the south-western parts of Ethiopia.

The pastoralists of the South Omo

Last November, I visited people in South Omo. We reached Turmi after travelling 800km from Addis and spending the night in Arba Minch, the beautiful green city located at the base of the western side of the Great Rift Valley, known for abundant springs and wildlife. I was anxious when I reached Turmi Hotel as it is in the middle of nowhere in the desert, filled with short, dry bushes. I then travelled 20km away from Turmi to visit the pastoralists in Bursha Gelema to see the rangeland management beneficiaries of our Recovery and Resilience project.

Aska Gone, a pastoralist in the village, told me a story of some 10 years back when the drought was severe. “Rain was scarce and during those times, our cattle were dying due to over-grazing and we were left with barren land. We sent our cows to a park found nearby to get grass for fodder and it was the reason for a series of conflicts.”

Livestock means life

Livestock for pastoralists means life, livelihood and a sign of status. In a pastoralist context, water, pasture and the natural environment are highly interlinked with the farmers. Their positive relationship leads to environmental rehabilitation, which can be manifested through planting trees, growing grass to protect soil and the environment at large. On the other hand, over-grazing and lack of pasture leads to environmental degradation.

Now the Hamer pastoralists in Bursha Gelema have learnt about preparedness, they keep their land enclosed and they harvest the grass and store fodder for cattle in good times. Mungi says, “A drought like last time won’t affect us again because as we are better prepared. I wish I could be born now because we have so much – roads, a water system. Even though life can be tough, it is still better for this generation compared to when I was young or my father’s generation, or my grandfather’s generation.”

Making a profit

As I learned from the pastoralists, selling cattle is a very recent phenomenon. One of the pastoralists I spoke to in Dassenech woreda said: “I am very happy in my life now because I am making money from the cattle. Usually we as pastoralists don’t know we have to sell a cow to get money. Now I sell them for a lot of money and I continue doing good business.”

Preparedness has always been the solution for these kinds of hazards, in order to build the resilience of communities with alternative livelihoods so that they will be able to resist the shocks and hazards affecting their area.

Helen Asnake is a program officer for Christian Aid Ethiopia.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.