AFAR REGION, Ethiopia — Valerie Browning remembers the alarming phone call late at night in August of 2015. The man told her that his community in the Afar region of Ethiopia was in shock.
“He said we are surrounded by dead animals. All of the goats have died,” Browning recalls. “They just fell over.”
Browning is program coordinator for Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA), an MCC partner that works with livestock farmers in a remote region of Ethiopia. She says for 10 months the goats had been eating dry pasture. And then, on that day in August, the rain finally came.
“But the goats were so emaciated,” she says. “When the rain came, their temperature dropped suddenly and they couldn’t deal with that. They were so weak, they just died.”
One man lost all but one of his 60 goats that day. He has six children.
“He didn’t know what to do,” Browning says. “He told me, I have one goat and no food for my family.”
It is a dramatic illustration of the impact of the worst drought in Ethiopia in 50 years. The United Nations says more than 10 million people, including six million children, need immediate food assistance.
In the Afar region, rain has been nonexistent or insufficient to sustain traditional grazing lands for more than five years. Pastoralists rely on their livestock for meat, milk and income; APDA estimates herd sizes at about 35 per cent of what they were a decade ago.
Twenty-seven year old Aisha Darsa and her husband have three children and live in the kebele (local community) of Namma Gubi. Their 20 goats and five cattle all died over the past few years. The family makes mats from palm leaves. And when Darsa can borrow a camel from a relative, she walks four days to a market to sell the mats.
“In our family, a bag of grain lasts for about 15 days,” she says. “But with the money I get for the mats, I can only afford to buy half a bag.”
A survey done by APDA identified two kebeles, Namma Gubi and Daboore, as communities suffering from acute malnutrition. Families have been surviving on meals of bread and watered down soup. Some days there is nothing to eat.
Sixty-seven year old Mohammed Asirmo also lives in Namma Gubi, and over the past few years his 50 goats have died of starvation or sickness.
“This drought is very, very bad,” he says. “I have had trouble getting food for my family.”
In partnership with APDA, MCC is helping 470 households in Namma Gubi and Daboore rebuild their herds. Each household received 10 goats – nine female and one male and food to feed them.
Aisha Dara’s goats arrived by truck in the spring of 2016. As she tends them with her family and neighbours, she is hopeful about rebuilding the herd.
Asirmo’s family also received 10 goats. By the spring of 2016, one had given birth.
“Now our children have milk again,” he says. “I hope to keep my animals in good shape. If they are in good shape, our household is in good shape.”
Asirmo and Dara have another source of optimism; spring rains should help with the recovery of grazing lands, that would reduce the amount of supplemental food that is needed.
Valerie Browning, from APDA, says most households need a herd of between 60 to 100 animals to sustain themselves. Healthy goats can reproduce twice a year, and she says these new goats are a chance to start over.
“What MCC has done, that’s the beginning,” Browning says. “This is what recovery looks like for these pastoralists.”
MCC funds the goat restocking project from its account at Canadian Foodgrains Bank. We welcome your donations to our account at the Foodgrains Bank, as we continue to support drought related projects in Ethiopia and other countries.