Apr 09, 2008

Oromo: Faced With Drought and Incompetence

Sample ImageGovernment maladministration is compounding the effects of an intense drought and the risk of disease that may accompany expected rains.

Below is an article written by Tesfalem Waldyes and published by Addis Fortune:

They were about 16 women, scattered on half of the road on the highway not far from the town of Wassa, 276km south of Addis Abeba; when cars were passing, they tried to stop drivers with loud chanting and waving of their long sticks. They were not beggars; a mix of young and old, these married women were performing a ritual known in the Oromo culture as "Atette Sera", a spiritual communications with God so that rain could come to their village.

They said that they had walked all the way from Toga Woraresa, an area located between the towns of Shashemne and Awassa. This area had not experienced rain for the past two months. Thus, they performed the ritual throughout the week, hoping that they could collect 40 to 50 Br [Ethiopian Birr] each day from drivers passing by, in order to buy goats to sacrifice to God, until such time that they would see clouds hovering in their village's sky.

"God will hear our prayers," said Kalele Edao, a group leader.

Friday, March 21 [2008], was their lucky day; they had collected 40 Br before it got dark and they were pleased to see that the sky over head was covered by a cloud. Kalele and the other women saw cloud as a good sign that pleasant days were ahead of them. There would be rain, and their cattle could find something green to graze.

In the past few months, they had watched their cattle become weaker and weaker by the day. They had witnessed the deaths of their neighbors' cattle. Their stocks of grain and cereal had become almost empty. They foresee the worst, should it fail to rain in the next few weeks and water their dried up land. They are not alone in their gloomy forecast.

Reports are emerging from international organizations alarmed by the combined effects of a strong La Nina weather condition and the cooling of Western Indian Ocean waters; both developments lead to a forecast that there will be below normal rainfall during the March to May rainy season in countries along the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia. According to a Food Security Update for East Africa, released in February 2008 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), these environmental developments have consequences such as unusual livestock migration as well as significant deterioration of livestock body conditions, negatively impacting both on livestock production and their market value in these countries.

"The March to May rains have the widest geographic coverage of any seasonal rainfall in the region," says the report. "But most importantly, they are very crucial for both livestock and crop production in the eastern equatorial parts of the region, covering Somalia, most of Kenya, southern and eastern Ethiopia and parts of Djibouti, where they contribute 50pc [%] or more of the annual rains received."

In Ethiopia, reports reveal that the food security situation in Oromia, Somali, Gambella and Southern regional states has deteriorated in the past two months. Kalele's village is one of the most affected areas in the southern parts of the country. Nevertheless, it can hardly be described as depressing when compared to Borena area, one of the 17 zones in the Oromia Regional State.

According to reports from rapid assessment conducted by experts from zonal offices and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the area, such as SOS Sahel and GOAL Borena, the drought situation in Borena has undoubtedly increased in its size and scale since January 2008. For instance, the number of needy population increased from 88,000 people then to 314,907 now, according to their findings.

They attribute this to the poor rains recorded in the past two rainy seasons: the main one, Ganna, extended from March to May, and the showery rain in Hageya, lasting […] from September to November. As a result, grazing lands have turned to reddish dust and water ponds, wells and boreholes have dried up. Lack of pasture and insufficient water has caused the death of a significant number of cattle, almost daily.

In February 2008 alone, 14,334 livestock perished in Dillo, Dire, Dahas, Teltele, Arero, Miyo, Moyale and Yabello, weredas all found in Borena, according to United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The poor condition of livestock and their subsequent deaths also led to the malnourishment of children and the elderly. Shortages in food availability, combined with unhealthy water sources, also caused outbreaks of diseases in some of these areas. There are reports of people dying from epidemics of meningitis and measles.


Indeed, there is no officially reported human death toll due to famine to date. Nevertheless, roaming around the weredas of Borena Zone reveals an area overwhelmed by carcasses. Every other day, dogs and vultures enjoy a new addition of such dead bodies. In some places, the villagers try to collect the carcasses in one place, and in a few locations they are tried of burning them. For pastoralists in Borena, the scene of someone pulling dead bodies of cattle is hardly startling.

Eyya Eroro, a resident of Denebela Bedena Kebele in Dire Wereda, has been doing it frequently in the past three months. After pulling the first few bodies, he had the energy to drag them far away from his village; later, nine carcasses lay on the bush only few minutes walk from his hut. Many of the other of his 121 cattle were found dead after a futile attempt to search for pasture.

Eyya now fears for the survival of his remaining 10 cattle; he wonders where he will get food for his eight children and two wives should they all die.

"I could get no milk," Eyya said. "I only have had tea and roasted maize since this morning."


Ironically, it seems a bonanza for some urban based pastoralists such as Wegene Debere, who lives in the outskirts of Yabelo town, the seat of Borena Zone, 570km south of Addis Abeba. He had 25 cattle before drought hit Borena; now he herds 40 additional cows in his barn. He bought them from the cattle market in Dubeluk town, located 71km from Yabelo.

He told Fortune that he transported them all on a rented Isuzu truck for almost all were too weak to be raided. Two, for instance, have died after they arrived at his barn, and another one could not stand in its feet.

"I bought them for 600 Br to 700 Br each," Wegene said, while feeding the starved cows from piles of hay stock in his barn. "If it was not for the drought, each of them would have cost me 1,500 Br to 1,600 Br."


The government and NGOs operating in the area have established feeding centers in suitable location in each weredas. They provide hay, concentrated food and water. According to Geda, the vice administrator, his administration was able to reach 14,227 cattle through a feeding center as well as giving direct aid to pastoralists.


Vice Administrator Geda defends his administration and the government record in their effort to halt the danger of hunger in Borena Zone. He disclosed that 563,561 Br was immediately withdrawn from a Safety Net budget and distributed to 94,293 beneficiaries. Additional 124,000 family heads were supported spending 7.4 million Br from the Zone's regular budget. This money also covers the distribution of water using 22 water trucks.

Whether or not these emergency relief responses are arguably adequate, some in the aid community in Addis Abeba wonder how much prepared officials at the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency (DPPA) are should the main rainy season fail. The federal Emergency Food Security and Reserve Administration lent much of its stock to the Ethiopian government, which has been waging tough battle against spiraling prices in urban centers. The federal government borrowed grains from the Administration through the Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise (EGTE), to stabilize prices in urban markets that affected largely the low income group.

The Administration has a total capacity of storing 405,000tns of grains, while currently, it only accumulates 100,000tns. Fekade Zewede, head of planning and information of the Administration, however, says though the available stock stands at low level, the Administration is capable of responding to any emergency requirement. There is yet to be a request, though.

Luckily, the weather forecast for the main rainy season is positive. In fact, the concern for some is on the flood that may hit some of the places in the south, such as Borena. Even last week [Week 14, 2008], sporadic showers began to pour, as if it was a positive response to prayers by the women of Toga Woraresa.

But they should not stop here for the current showery rains are not necessarily good news to pastoralists in the south: they fear the worst is yet to come after the rain starts.

"Losing their resistance, the cattle will be dying due to cold," said Kalecha.

Kalele and her women will probably continue with their rituals, urging God to intensify the volume of rain-He perhaps had begun to send.