Asia and Africa: Living on the Edge

Africa’s Growing Water Crisis


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Lake Victoria: Troubled Waters
The forces threatening Africa’s
largest lake

More than 30 million people rely on East Africa's Lake Victoria for their livelihoods. But lake levels have dropped dramatically in recent years. Climate change, hydroelectric dam projects and increasing pressure on its resources have some environmentalists suggesting the lake may be destroyed within 20 years.

This video includes commentary from those who live off the lake and reports about the growing tensions between the three countries that share its shores.

As featured on Foreign Exchange with Dhaljit Daliwal. Produced in association with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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Ethiopia: Living Without Lake Haramaya
When Chala Ahmed won the U.S. visa lottery in the town of Haramaya in eastern Ethiopia, his first thought was to earn enough money in America to build his mother a home. The new house would be painted pink and sit behind a high white gate, and it would be built on the shores of Lake Haramaya, a nine-mile stretch of placid water that gave his hometown its name.

It took Ahmed, 26, almost eight years of long-haul trucking across the United States before his family's house was finished. He sent money home regularly, and relatives reported back on the progress.

Although Ahmed had been warned by friends and family that the lake was drying up, it was only last January that he traveled back to Ethiopia to see for himself how dramatically the landscape had changed.

Listen to Audio
Listen to an audio report by Jessica Partnow on how the people of Haramaya are surviving now that the lake is gone.


Sarah Stuteville is a print and online reporter with the Common Language Project in Seattle. She has written for the Seattle Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seattle Post Intelligencer. She was the 2005 winner of the Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism.

Alex Stonehill is a videographer and photojournalist with the Common Language Project. His work has been featured in Glimpse Magazine, the Seattle Weekly and on PBS's Foreign Exchange.

Jessica Partnow is a webmaster and audio producer with the Common Language Project. Her work has been featured on PRI's The World, Morning Edition and World Vision Report.

Funding and travel for these reports were provided by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The Common Language Project is a nonprofit multimedia magazine dedicated to covering local and international underreported stories related to social justice and human rights.

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 supply.

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 livestock.

Strained resources and loss of livestock have also increased tensions between 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 were killed, 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 the violence.

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 warming.

Ethiopia's Somali region

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.”

According to 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.


Ernest Waititu was born in Kenya and is the founder and editor in chief of 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, see Water Wars: Ethiopia and Kenya.

Ernest Waititu's report, "A Dwindling Existence for Africa’s Pastoralists," originally appeared in The Indypendent. "The People of Haramaya: After the Lake" radio report originally aired on World Vision Report. The slideshow about Haramaya Lake was originally published on the website.