I first met Omar Adan in August, not too long after he had lost more than 300 sheep, camels and donkeys to the on-going drought in Ethiopia.
Adan is a lifelong pastoralist. He, his wife and their six children have been migrating for decades from place to place in search of water and pasture for their livestock. When we met at an informal transitional settlement just outside the town of Gode in the Somali region of Ethiopia, he and many of the 200-plus others had travelled as many as 150km looking for water, food, and any aid that was generally available.
He had come to the settlement after successive seasons of failed rains and the resulting widespread water shortages and crop failures, down to only a handful of sheep, one camel and one donkey. It was clear that Adan’s presence in this stationary settlement went against everything he knew - as was the case for many pastoralists like him in Ethiopia. And yet he knew that this current crisis would force him to change his way of life, should he want to survive.
“I could start up a small business on the side of the road,” Adan said. “I have the skills. I just don’t have the money to start it up.”
Omar Adan is not alone. Thousands upon thousands of previously migratory people are transitioning to more sedentary lifestyles out of necessity, currently dependent upon aid to survive. Two successive rainy season failures have drastically diminished the livestock population in parts of eastern Ethiopia to a point where it may be difficult for them to ever be recovered.
In many cases, these pastoralists have nowhere else to go. Although they are grateful for the assistance they have been receiving in these past months, they yearn for a way to provide for themselves, and they yearn to get back to the way of life that is known and comfortable to them.
This is where CHF International's efforts have been especially focused in the past weeks especially. We have been implementing several projects with funding from USAID and UNOCHA to protect and restore economic sustainability throughout the Horn of Africa. Our aim is to assist more than 30,000 people in Ethiopia and surrounding countries by protecting livelihoods through improved access to income and agricultural support. Thirty thousand people may seem like a small figure compared to the 2.9 million people in need of assistance, but our efforts are focused primarily on restoring livelihoods for the long term — enabling and training farmers in drought-appropriate farming methods and educating people like Omar Adan in agriculture-based income generation, so that he and others can indeed use their skills to recover financially from this drought, and be resilient in the face of future droughts.
Our work across Ethiopia and Kenya also includes cash-for-work opportunities to support agricultural production through activities such as the construction of water harvesting systems and other activities that bolster agricultural production. We have introduced Seed Fairs, which connect farmers to seed vendors to ensure that critical staple food crops can be planted in time for the most important rainy period, and we are offering support for livestock by providing vulnerable households with fodder during the most critical period.
All of these elements reinforce an approach that is focused on long-term redevelopment efforts - far beyond the needs of today and tomorrow, but what Omar and others see as a requirement to get them back to a way of life that was once normal to them.
But our efforts are far from complete. The short-term emergency assistance currently being provided is not sustainable without continued, long-term donor commitments. Especially in places like Gode, which are near to reliable sources of water – like the Shebelle River – we need to support local farmers not just with nourishment, but with improved skills, tools, drought-resistant seeds and irrigation pumps. We are focused on creating opportunities for people to generate their own income while at the same time providing food, goods and services.
We want Omar and others like him to become self-sufficient sooner rather than later; regardless of the weather. We want them to be the drivers of their own development.
With ominous predictions of future rain failures and ever-rising global food prices, our focus on facilitating access to what people need through the market economy is most important; not through indefinite quantities of international humanitarian aid, but opportunities to drive their own development. Only then will we have succeeded in truly rebuilding lives and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa.
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