Millions left in peril as severe drought decimates livestock in Ethiopia

Close to seven million people in Ethiopia are plagued by a severe drought with scores of livestock dying from a lack of water and food supplies, forcing many to head to displaced people camps where they rely on government relief.

The Somali Region, a regional state where 80 percent of the local population’s livelihood depends on livestock, is among the places suffering great losses, with well over a million domesticated animals dying there, according to the local disaster risk management bureau.

Mohamed Farah, a 48-year-old local farmer, told of the immense struggle he is facing to look after his family of eight children, even sacrificing the hay of his own roof to feed his sheep.

“I live by farming and animal husbandry here. It’s been so long since it rained here that most of our livestock starved to death due to a lack of food. At the beginning of the drought, we were able to go to a nearby market to sell livestock for food. And now I cannot do it anymore. We can only feed the four sheep that are still alive on the hay from the roof,” he said.

A mass of nearby herdsmen migrated to a settlement adjacent to the city of Gode about two and a half months ago, hoping to get the water and food provided by the government, with the number of households at the site increasing to more than 2,200 from about 400.

Berbera and her husband Ade used to herd for a living, and in the good days they raised as many as 130 animals, which allowed them to sell dairy products and provide food for their six children.

But now, the only four surviving cows are far too malnourished to produce milk. Ade said times are tough, and though he is grateful to be alive, things remain bleak.

“We lost a lot of livestock, which means that we lose our most important source of income. But luckily, my family and I are still alive,” he said.

Concerns are also rising that as an increasing number of people came to the settlement to seek the government’s relief, the minimum food and water which is being supplied could no longer meet the needs.

Officials say that efforts so far have not been enough, but hope that the burden can be shared across several other displacement camps across the region.

“There had been a response that has been made three times, for food response, and there is a daily water tracking from [the nearby city of] Dire Dawa. But all these, I mean the response that has been made, is not enough. This is not the only site which is available to displaced people, but there are many other displacement sites in the ten woredas (districts) of Shabelle Zone. The response and the need are not matching each other,” said Abdi, coordinator of the disaster risk management bureau in Somali.

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