A series of multimedia reports show how water stress across the horn of Africa is fueling conflict and threatening ancient ways of life.
A Dwindling Existence for Africa’s Pastoralists
By Ernest Waititu
On a warm afternoon in the pastoral settlement of Dubluck in southern Ethiopia,
thousands of livestock stand in idle groups waiting to drink. They’ve
been herded dozens of miles by their minders to find the nearest fresh water
Behind the mass of thirsty animals, more cattle, camels and goats
pour down the hillside toward this ancient complex of hand-dug wells. These
deep wells offer the only source of water in an increasingly harsh landscape,
where barren earth and brittle thorn bushes offer constant proof of drought.
Cattle wait to drink in the midday heat at the pastoral settlement of Dubluck in southern Ethiopia.
Locals in Ethiopia's arid lowlands report that rainfall is decreasing and wells
are drying up.
Galgalo Dida, the deputy chief of Dubluck, has
seen many droughts in his life. But the last few years have brought some
of the shortest rainy seasons in memory.
“The animals are starting to die in many places,” says Dida. “We
have nothing to feed them on. We live in critical fear now.”
Further south, in the Somali region of Ethiopia, the situation is equally
dire. Mohammed Hassan, a tall, middle-aged man with a bright orange beard,
explains how local weather patterns have changed.
“Annual rainfall is falling and even springs are drying out,” says
Hassan, who is the tribal head of the Gare, a clan of some 475,000 people spread
across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Their only option is to dig deeper to find
water, sometimes to 100 feet or more below the dusty surface. Traditional wells,
some of them dug 300 to 400 years ago, are disappearing at alarming rates.
In one village in just a few years, nine wells have been covered by sand erosion,
and the village has no means of reclaiming them.
Hassan admits that people,
livestock and deforestation have added to the water
shortages, but he and other local leaders have no answers for the rising
temperatures experienced in recent years.
“Last year it rained for only two days,” says local area chief Ibrahim
Ganamo, lifting two fingers in the air and shaking his head. Statistics are
hard to come by, but Ganamo says that, last year, people lost 80 percent of their
Strained resources and loss of livestock have also increased tensions
communities who are increasingly competing for the same dwindling supplies
of water and pasture.
In June 2006, conflict erupted in southern Ethiopia between the Borena
and the Guji people, when the Guji laid claim to Borena land. Hundreds
and 23,000 people were forced to flee the area. There’s been intermittent
fighting ever since, and easy access to automatic weapons has only added to
A Vulnerable Continent
The plight of Ethiopia’s pastoralists reflects concerns raised in the
landmark 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
which forecast that Africa would be the continent at greatest risk from global
A laborer scoops water from one of several hand-dug
wells in the village of Leh, in Ethiopia's Somali region.
The report noted: “Although Africa, of all the major world regions, has contributed the least to potential climate change because of its low per capita fossil energy use and hence low greenhouse gas emissions, it is the most vulnerable continent to climate change because widespread poverty limits capabilities to adapt.”
the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, half of the 314 million Africans who live on less than $1 a day rely heavily on their livestock to survive, and 80 percent of those people live in pastoral areas.
Looking for Solutions
Tribal leader Hassan believes that one way to reduce the violence is to help educate people to mix traditional livestock farming with more efficient modern techniques. His council members now teach the community about the effects of deforestation and hold inter-tribal meetings to help resolve conflict.
“What is happening in Africa today is a warning to the world,” says Negusu Aklilu, director of Ethiopia’s Forum for the Environment. “We do not have to ask whether climate change is happening. Climate change is real.”
A report by Christian Aid, a nongovernmental group that has been working with pastoralists in Ethiopia and Kenya, predicts that they will be some of the first people to lose their livelihood due to climate change.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ernest Waititu was born in Kenya and is the founder and editor in chief of Afrikanews.org. He has a master’s degree in journalism from E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where he also earned a master of arts in international affairs.
Funding and travel for these reports were provided by the Pulitzer
Center on Crisis Reporting. For related reporting, videos, and resources,
Wars: Ethiopia and Kenya.
Ernest Waititu's report, "A Dwindling
Existence for Africa’s Pastoralists," originally appeared
People of Haramaya: After the Lake" radio report originally aired
Vision Report. The slideshow about Haramaya Lake was originally
published on the 1h20.org website.