By David Snyder
His thinning white hair dyed orange in the traditional local style, Aden Esse Kan stands amid the swirling dust clouds of eastern Ethiopia, eager to talk about the drought that now plagues this region.
An elder in the village of Togo Wuchale, a dusty half hour drive from the town of Jijiga, Kan summarises the problems facing his community, “The drought affects us in two ways – our people and our livestock,” Kan said. “There is no rain at all so we don’t have anything to eat.”
Today across much of Ethiopia, where as many as 11 million people are in need of food aid, that is a distressingly common refrain. For traditional pastoralists like those from the Jijiga region, just sixty kilometers from the border with Somalia, the drought has devastated local grazing land, forcing many in the village of Togo Wuchale to drive their thinning herds further and further in search of food.
“The livestock have to go very far to graze now – at least 400 kilometres,” Kan said. “The youngest and strongest have left.”
To help break the cycle of drought and poverty, Caritas Internationalis members have stepped in. Through the Togo Wuchale Pond Project, implemented through partner agency the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (HCS), Caritas members are helping to dig a massive 75,000 cubic meter water pond that will provide the village and two others in the area with a year-round water supply.
As part of the project, HCS staff members will train locals in how to grow fruit trees, providing seedlings and educating beneficiaries on the use of small, uniquely designed catchment areas called micro basins for each seedling that both maximise water catchment and prevent soil erosion.
With year-round access to water, a rarity in this arid region of the country, the people of Togo Wuchale will be well positioned to both earn money from cash crops like papaya and vegetables and to support their livestock all year – none of which would be possible without the pond.
“Our main problem is water so we expect that this aqua dam will solve that problem for us,” Kan said.
For those left behind since the young men left – mostly women, children, and elders like Aden Kan – survival is a matter of falling back on age-old coping strategies. Many locals cut trees and bushes to sell for firewood and fencing, a practice that degrades the local environment and leads to further erosion and soil quality depletion, virtually ensuring future droughts.
“We make charcoal and cut trees for firewood and fencing but there are a lot of people who can’t do that work – women and children,” Kan said. “Plus, this is bad for the environment.”
As part of CI-supported efforts in the region, HCS staff are also conducting training on community based forestation and environmental rehabilitation, educating locals on the need to plant grasses around existing water holes to hold the soil and creating
opportunities to plant more trees that both protect the environment and provide a source of income for local residents through water schemes like the Togo Wuchale Pond Project.
Contributing their own labour and land to the pond project, locals like Kan are eager to see the impact of the new project. After three years of drought, Kan says, it is a hardship that is becoming increasingly difficult to bear.
“I am 60 years old and I have never seen drought like this,” Kan said. “Life is very hard for us now.”