Women return to their village after collecting water from a spring beside a dry riverbed in the Kebele of Bishan Behe in Hararghe. Caritas supports the community. Credit: David Snyder for CRS

By David Snyder

You are not expecting rain when you come to cover a drought. But that’s what I found when I stepped off of the plane here Sunday—and what I have seen each day since. Rain. Looking around at the green of the hillsides, you could easily be fooled about the real problems facing the people here. But it doesn’t take much digging to learn how much trouble looms, where the rain now falling comes far too late to avert a crisis for as more than 11 million people.

I spent yesterday visiting several projects around  Dira Dawa A, a zone of eastern Ethiopia that has been hard hit by the failure earlier this year of the first of the country’s two rainy seasons. With the failure of the short rains, which normally fall from February to June, millions were unable to gather a harvest. Worse still, they were unable to plant the next crop—the one they need to harvest in October or November to get through the long months until June 2012. The rains falling now were due in June. As it stands now, even if rain remains strong for the rest of the season, people will still be hungry. If they fail, millions more will be affected.

What I saw yesterday were projects that have helped many former beneficiaries survive the food shortages gripping the region. Outside of Dira Dawa yesterday I met a farmer who has access to an irrigation system installed by Caritas in 2003. Though the fields around his small plot are withering, his 3/5th of an acre plot is flourishing—alive with heavily laden fruit trees and vegetable patches that will see his family through this drought.

Earlier, I met a young mother who received five bee hives through in a livelihoods project. Her old hives, she told me, produced just 9 pounds of honey each year. Her new ones—an improved variety of both bees and hive—produce 22 pounds per hive each year. That’s 110 pounds of honey she is able to sell to increase her household income even in seasons when the crops fail.

Caritas Internationalis and one of its US members Catholic Relief Services (CRS) commissioned David Snyder to visit the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat in Ethiopia.