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When the rains don’t come: An update from Ethiopia

“We struggle to survive. We look for a bright future together, but it is unimaginable unless we have some support. It is hard to think of the future.”

Shiferaw Tesema, aged 70, lives in the beautiful, but remote, region of Zego Kebele in northern Ethiopia. A farmer, he has lived in Zego all his life, and has seen climate change and drought take its toll on his community over the years, but says that this past year has been one of the most difficult he has ever encountered. He explains, “When you go down to remote areas you see the conditions are worse than during the 1980s drought. We are seeing the death of many cows. The problems of climate change are worsening and worsening every year. Unless the community adapts to survive then there is a problem. We are struggling by on some vegetables. That is how we are trying to manage. It is a terrible situation.”

On 24 March, the United Nations and humanitarian partners launched a 90-day international campaign to raise awareness about the food crisis facing the drought-affected people of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is experiencing its worst drought since the 1980s and millions of people are facing severe hunger. All We Can is already supporting its local partners to respond.

All We Can has been supporting its trusted local Ethiopian partner, Sustainable Natural Resources Management Association (SUNARMA), since 2004. SUNARMA works to improve soil and water conservation and vegetable and livestock production in central and northern Ethiopia. In the current drought, All We Can has provided an additional £22,000 to SUNARMA to help provide nearly 3000 people with emergency food supplies such as wheat and oil. SUNARMA is working with the local government in areas like Zego Kebele to ensure that those most vulnerable to the impact of the drought – individuals like Shiferaw Tesema – are given support as a priority.

Shiferaw is the main earner in his household, and cares for his dependant disabled daughter Yechi. For the past six months he has been unable to provide for his family because the crops he usually grows on his small plot of land have failed. He is frustrated and scared by the current situation. “Because of our rain-fed agriculture system we have nothing when there is no rain,” he laments. “We have to go out of our area to purchase food for ourselves and to feed our cows. With rain we are able to produce different crops like wheat and barley. That is the normal weather for us. We can live a good life. But now, without that rain, we cannot do agriculture, we cannot grow wheat or barley or anything else.”

In coming weeks SUNARMA will be reaching out to Shiferaw’s family to provide wheat and oil to enable him to manage during the coming months. These emergency rations will provide some peace of mind in what is a perilous situation for farmers in Zego. Climatic changes underlie the current food crisis facing Ethiopia, and Shiferaw and others bear witness to the increasingly unpredictable rain patterns, which is why SUNARMA is focused on developing long-term sustainable solutions to these problems. SUNARMA is helping farmers to find alternative sources of income as well as improving water and soil conversation for more secure harvests.

Ethiopia is currently experiencing a short rainy season, the belg, which has provided farmers with an opportunity to plant seedlings in the hope of a successful harvest in a few months time. Shiferaw and his family pray that the heavy rains due to fall in June, July and August follow, so that they can begin to rebuild their resilience, feed their livestock and think about a bright future once again.

About the Author Laura Cook

Laura works for All We Can as the Communications Manager. She is also an internationally acclaimed photographer with a passion for women's rights. She is studying MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies in her spare time and lives with her husband Stephen in Essex.

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