Your Neighbour is Thirsty

Your Neighbour is Thirsty

In February 2020, just a month or so before Lockdown began in the UK. I visited the Afar region of Ethiopia with Tearfund Scotland. The aim of the trip was to visit 2 villages. One had just started working with Tearfunds partner organisation in the area, Friendship Support Association (FSA) and the other had been working with FSA for a while.

A resident of Afar, Ethiopia seeking shelter while the wind scours the landscape and sand pummels everything it can find.

We wanted to visit the 2 communities to get a juxtaposition of how transforming the work in that area is. The work is based around water. The most precious commodity in the World. It’s not something we often worry for in the West, especially in Scotland! But in places like Ethiopia, where it is incredibly scarce, it is so precious.

A group of children try in vain to shelter under a tree during a dust storm in Afar.

Afar is an extreme environment to be in, let alone work in or live in. Every day in the field, temperatures were around 40°C. There were points where it was so hot my camera refused to work properly. It was so incredibly hard to focus on the job we were there to do. I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it must be to live in this environment without plentiful access to water.

A huge Dust Devil travels through Afar. These whirlwinds of sand are painful to be caught in. If you look closely at the image, you can see a group of 3 people just below and to the right of the storm, giving an indication of its size….

The first village we visited, which is the focus of this entry in my Blog, was struggling for water, despite there being a River course just a few hundred metres from the centre of the community. A river known in the area for running at regular times through the year, during the wet seasons. These wet seasons came twice a year like clockwork. The community we visited, as well as many more, relied on these predictable rains. Despite us being there during one of the wet seasons, at a time when the locals used to be able to rely on the river, it was bone dry. So dry, the Riverbed was parched to the point of cracking. The once predictable rains have been unpredictable and often absent for many years now.

This dried up Riverbed should have been full of water when we visited. The rain in this part of Ethiopia used to come regularly. Climate Change has meant the rain is now very irregular and much less than it used to be. These regular rains were relied upon to supply local communities with water.

When there is not water in the river, the women of the community instead have to travel for hours with their donkeys to collect water. They start this journey during the night when it is coolest, but even by mid morning the temperatures can be pushing 40°C. The journey isn’t just long and tiring, it is dangerous. Wildlife in the area they walk through includes Hyena, Baboons and Cheetah. Leopards and Lions are also not unknown in Ethiopia…Once they reach the water source, they then have to worry about Hippos and Nile Crocodiles.

Orbisa and some of her neighbours arriving home after travelling for hours through the night and then the heat of the morning to collect water for their families.

Why is this happening? Because of Climate Change. Climate Change is causing water sources in this part of the World to dry up. It’s not just that Communities like Orbisa’s have to travel further and further just to get some water to drink and cook with (and it’s rarely enough for them). The people in this part of Ethiopia are Pastoralists. Pastoralists are semi-nomadic herdsmen. It is a way of life that has existed here for centuries. A culture, a people, used to water not being where they expect and moving on to find it. But Climate Change is causing there to be less and less water. If there animals can’t drink, if there is no rain to grow food for them, they will die. If their animals die they have no means of income. They are unable to feed their families.

Orbisa’s families and the other families in her community are Pastoralists. They raise and tend livestock for a living. This was already tough before Climate Change started to impact the area, now it is a needlessly tougher way of life.

What is ridiculously unfair about this situation is the causality at play. The people of Afar have pretty much no Carbon Footprint to speak of. Yet, they are one of the communities in the World taking the brunt of it. Our actions, our decisions impact many more people than we ever seem to realise.

Orbisa and some of her children sharing their story with the team from Tearfund.

To find out more about things we can do to help those in this region, visit:

Orbisa, resident of Afar, Ethiopia, one of the hottest inhabited places on Earth.

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