Ethiopia plans ambitious resettlement of people buffeted by East Africa drought
Ethiopia sees voluntary resettlement of seminomadic peoples into villages as a longterm solution for dealing with the impact of East Africa's droughts.
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A few miles north of Dire Dawa, Ethiopia's second-largest city, barely a leaf is visible. In some patches, bushes have disappeared, leaving only sand and fearsome heat that can top 104 degrees F. The herders who live there can deal with occasional dry spells, but the frequency has pushed coping mechanisms to breaking points, aid workers say.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures East Africa endures drought
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"When they are hit with several dry seasons in a row, the result is a crisis," says David Wightwick of Save the Children (STC) UK. He is working in Bisle village, 34 miles north of Dire Dawa. "And at the moment it's going from crisis to catastrophe."
Humanitarian facilities here are crowded with mothers and children who have walked hours in search of help, among them, Lula Robe and her malnourished baby. "Five years ago we had 100 sheep and goats, but now we have 10," Ms. Robe says, clutching a bottle of donated cooking oil. "We have lost our livestock to the drought." Her family of 10 is now reliant on handouts.
These stories are common across the region, which has endured three similar crises since 2000. The problems in Bisle are the "tip of the iceberg," says STC's Katy Webley.
Pastoralists, who dominate a profitable livestock trade, are used to weathering harsh conditions, says Holly Welcome Radice, an STC Ethiopia livelihoods expert, and their customs should be supported instead of transformed, "Historically pastoralists are very adaptable and resilient because they live in harsh places," she says. "They are there because nothing else can be done there."
While pastoralists should have access to public services, cellphones, and the Internet, a mass change is unwise because, she says, "these are environments that are not able to sustain huge sedentary populations."
Ms. Radice says the solution lies in working with historically marginalized communities to take measures such as restoring pasture and increasing vital mobility hindered by private landholdings, borders, or conflicts. "You have to understand what is really causing the crisis – it's not just the failure of rains. It has to do with people's failure to access services; it's people's failure to have a political voice."
But Ethiopia is not known for buckling to foreign charities and it's almost certain that views like Radice's will not shape the pastoralists' future.
"For the long term, the government wants to support pastoralists to pursue sedentary lives along the banks of primary rivers," says Assefa Tewodros, coordinator of the state's Pastoral Community Development Project. The pressures of land degradation, conflict, climate change, and population spikes, he says, mean this is the only option, as the hinterlands are too vast for the government to provide services to dispersed herders.