The pastoral region of Afar in the northeastern part of Ethiopia is one of the hottest places on Earth, with sweltering temperatures in the summer.
Mother of three, 25-year-old Fatuma lives in a rural village. Like the majority of her community, Fatuma relies on mixed agriculture to make a living and feed her family.
“I used to plant maize once a year during the rainy season, from which we were able to harvest enough maize to give us an income along with our milk production,” she said. “But, for the past two years we have had no rain and all our crops have gone. The drought has caused our animals to die so our milk production has also decreased significantly.”
Fatuma, along with her neighbors, relies on the Awash River as a lifeline. Both animals and humans use the river for drinking purposes, as well as for household use and small-scale irrigation. But the declining and unpredictable absence of rainfall has reduced the volume of water in the river, causing concern for everyone.
“We now only use it for drinking as the water level is going down. We don’t use it for irrigation. Because of this, we only have a small amount of maize left from last year’s harvest, which will not be enough for the whole family,” Fatuma says. “Now, the government is providing us with some food each month but it is not enough for even one person, let alone a family.”
It is a difficult and alarming time for Fatuma. Her 18-month-old baby daughter is malnourished and cannot walk unaided as children her age should be able to. Her hair has also started turning grey as a result of the lack of nutritious food.
“I can’t sleep at night thinking of my children and what I am going to feed them tomorrow,” she said. “I am so happy when I can give them something to eat. We have to use the river water together with the animals as we don’t have any other option. We used to have 20 goats, five cows, and five camels, but now we only have three camels, nine goats, and three cows left. We sold some to earn a little money to buy food to survive.”
Plan International is working in four of Ethiopia’s drought-affected regions to provide lifesaving food, livestock, and seeds to communities struggling to survive. Plan is also providing vital training to health care workers focused on the wellbeing of children under 5, in order to promote the benefits of breastfeeding and good sanitation and hygiene practices among parents.
For Fatuma, Plan’s support is desperately required. “We need food and water to help our children grow up healthy and happy; without this our future is uncertain,” she said.