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Published on 27 June 2012
By Jacqui Ooi, Senior Communications Officer, ChildFund Australia
Travelling along the bumpy dirt road out to the villages of Siraro district in Ethiopia, the first thing you notice is how beautiful the landscape is – rolling fields dotted with grass-roofed mud huts, pairs of oxen moving slowly side by side ploughing fields and passing donkeys transporting bundles of firewood and jerry cans of water.
This is one of Ethiopia’s most drought-prone areas, yet there has been some rain in the weeks before our visit so it’s greener than I expect. I’m also surprised at how peaceful it is – just like being in the countryside at home.
But look beyond the beauty and life here is tough. The mud huts that look so beautiful on the landscape provide the most basic of shelters, with no electricity, no running water and no toilets. Those who can afford animals – cows, donkeys, oxen – keep them inside their huts at night for fear of thieves, so their already-tight living quarters become even more crowded and unhygienic.
Access to safe water is a huge issue in this area. Of the five villages ChildFund works with, only three have a communal water source – but it’s not always enough for their needs. The remaining two villages have no access to safe water at all. Children collect water from a dirty river that is some distance away – it makes them sick but there is no alternative.
During our visit I am happy to see that this is about to change. Borehole drilling is under way in these two villages. This is an expensive process that requires a huge piece of machinery to drill deep beneath the earth to reach water. Everyone was excited to tell us that the drill had hit water at 250 metres and phase two of the project – the construction of reservoirs, pipelines and water points to pump the water out to the communities – is now underway.
The other massive challenge here is the changing weather patterns. In Siraro, families are struggling to survive in a vicious cycle of flood and drought. Drought once came every 10 years, now it’s more like every one to two years. When the rains do come, they are erratic or too late. This is causing havoc for farming communities who survive on what they grow – when nothing grows, people don’t survive.
This is why ChildFund has been providing emergency food aid, water and medical care in Siraro, as part of our response to last year’s drought across the Horn of Africa. While the situation has stabilised, ChildFund’s support continues to ensure children are nourished and cared for during this critical time in their development. Rations of Famix (a nutritious porridge mix) and edible oil are being distributed to the most vulnerable families on a monthly basis.
However, while food aid supports you to survive, it can't save your assets or livelihood. Longer-term solutions, such as drilling wells, installing rainwater cisterns, constructing grain storage tanks, diversifying people’s skills and incomes, and encouraging a savings culture, are also necessary to reduce the impact of future droughts. With ChildFund supporting all of these activities in Siraro, I left feeling hopeful that things are heading in the right direction.
Here's a quick video we took at the latest round of food distribution in Siraro: