The eastern Ethiopian regions of Afar and Sitti are dry and inhospitable places for much of the year. Yet this is where many pastoralists live, moving from place to place, searching for water and pasture to feed their precious livestock.

This delicately balanced life changed two years ago when unusually light rains caused nothing to grow and livestock to die. The ensuing drought challenged the very way of life of these nomadic communities.

Many of the local nomadic peoples of this region say that this drought was the worst in 25 years. Without any nearby water or pasture to feed on animals stopped producing milk and started to die. Pastoral communities became dependent on aid provided by the government and a handful of NGOs.

For two years there was little if any rain and, in desperation, many started to sell their animals to buy food. In a culture where livestock is linked to status and human survival, it is sometimes said that the pastoralists, “would rather die than sell their animals”. This was obviously a difficult choice.

ALSO READ: Ethiopia Survives Its Great Drought, But A Way of Life May Not

Mohammed Delal was originally part of a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) assessment team sent to Afar in September. “When we arrived the situation was awful. I was really struck by one area in particular,” he says. “We saw a field with many, many graves. One of the more recent ones contained a mother, a father and five children. Apparently they had all passed away from malnutrition or associated illness.”

“In some places we visited, we could smell death. Animals had been dying at an alarming rate and local people were struggling to bury the decomposing remains. This left a lingering putrid smell in the air.”

At the clinics MSF works from, there was an an ever increasing number of malnourished children. Their parents brought them to the organization as they had nowhere else to go. Diseases associated with hunger and squalid conditions like measles, watery diarrhea and pneumonia started to spread.

Continue reading this story on Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
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