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Of hope and defiance in the face of drought

By Tigist Gebru

Amina Ibrahim aged 50 mother from Somali region of Ethiopia stricken by drought.

Driving out of Jijiga- the Somali Regional town to the windy and dusty plain fields of Gunagado in Jarar zone to see the ongoing Oxfam together with UNICEF, One of the drought response Donors, we come face to face with the severity of the drought that has displaced over 3,600 pastoralists in search of food and water. Gunagado is one of the temporary settlement sites that Oxfam runs a life saving drought response program. It is located in Jarar zone, one of the nine zones in the Somali Region of Ethiopia seen south of the Jijiga town. The people here merely exist with nothing but humanitarian aid. Over 8.5 million people are stricken by a severe drought in Ethiopia. Somali region is one of the worst affected locations where over 3.3 million people are in need of urgent support. Since last drought in 2016, over 2 million livestock have died in Somali region following the drought. Lacks of food, water and pasture have forced over 1 million people to leave their homes already.

Abundant life is like a tale for little children in Somali region
Amina Ibrahim aged 50; mother of 12 children- 9 sons and 3 daughters now lives in Gunegado. She stares in the scare and nostalgically says 30 years ago, life was great. When I got married at the age of 16, everyone in the village danced with me on my special day at a rural wedding filled with feast, joy, and dance. Food back then was nothing but camel meat. Milk and butter was from nothing else but the cows. With a concerned look she uttered “But as years have gone by, things began to change and since then life started to take a different course. It now feels like we are living in a completely different world. Sometimes I fail to believe that I had lived that kind life that we now dream of these days. Usually it feels like a fairy tale for the younger children when we tell them how life was at that time.

The drought in Somali region
“I have lived though many years of drought but never have I seen one that completely crushed my hopes like the current one.
“Two years ago, I had a mix of 600 cows and Oxen, over 150 sheep and goats each probably worth 100-1500 ETB (equivalent to 50-70 USD), 50 camel, and seven donkeys to help us carry things. Yes my family and I had all this and lost all over the last two years. Before our own eyes everything we thought we had was simply gone, all of it but a single donkey.” Now we are here, all of us are trying to survive with your support but I wonder how long can you be able to do this for us and for how many of us?”

Leaving home
Amina was forced to leave her rural home in AbahoyGablan 5 months ago and it took her family eight full days and nights to get to the Gunagado camp for internally displaced people. The first time they set foot in camp, she recalls seeing an Oxfam labelled truck supplying water to the people. Since then they have stayed here. She doesn’t know for how long they will stay at the camp.
“This water is the only thing that gives me joy, that keeps me going, that is holding my life that saved me from the brink of a death and believe me this is the only reason I am alive today. It’s strange how the abundance can change everything and the lack of it can cause so much pain that feels like a punishment for some sort of mistakes we have done. I hope no one dies of a thirst of water like all the animals I had.” Today there is nothing to return to. This is the one and only place we are all surviving. If we leave here, we would be on our own and we must first decide to die before we take a single leap. We have no choice but to stay here where there is at least some help.”

Internally displaced people lining up with their Jerry cans at water point in Gunagado IDP camp.

Over 3,600 people like Amina that have been forced to leave their homes, pushed to take a leap of faith in their quest for water and food. Because of the drought young and little children are robbed of their future when they left school in search of food and water. Many of them are now seeking shelter in Gunagado IDP camp with nothing but humanitarian aid. Gunagado is located in Jarar zone south of the Jijiga town and is one among the six temporary settlement sites that Oxfam’s drought response covers within the Somali region.

With the financial support from UNICEF, Oxfam supplies daily water to Amina and others in the camp. In Somali region Oxfam supplies daily water to 57 sites in Doolo, Afder, Ngob, Jarar and Korahe zones with the financial support from different donors including ECHO, GAC, EHF (OCHA), OFDA, GFO, IRC, DEC, and with donations from other Oxfam confederations. So far Oxfam has supported a total of 670,873 people of which 33.1% of our beneficiaries are supported through UNICEF grant.

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