Climate change destroys pastoralist way of life
NARDO CAMP: Zeinab Taher once roamed through Ethiopia’s arid Somali region tending a herd of 350 sheep, goats and cattle with her nine children.
Then the autumn rains failed and the grass that fed her animals didn’t grow. No rain came this spring, and then the livestock began to die. Now, the 60-year-old woman huddles in a makeshift windblown camp with several thousand others, depending on food and water from international agencies.
Another drought has seized the Horn of Africa, devastating the livestock herders in these already dry lands.
Even as the government and aid agencies struggle to help them, there is a growing realisation that with climate change, certain ways of life in certain parts of the world are becoming difficult to sustain.
In Ethiopia, which unlike neighbouring Somalia or South Sudan has a functioning government, the emergency effort has kept people alive.
Authorities and aid agencies are trying to get beyond the immediate humanitarian response and encourage a shift to livelihoods less vulnerable to drought and climate shocks.
“In many pastoral lands, pastoral livelihoods are no longer viable,” said Samir Wanmali, the deputy country director for the World Food Programme.
An estimated 450 000 people in the south-eastern Somali region have abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and retreated to camps to receive food aid in recent months, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
At one of the camps, an expanse of sand and thorny scrub dotted with hundreds of huts made out of plastic tarpaulins and twigs, Taher worried that even when the drought ended, she couldn’t simply resume her traditional way of life.
“Even if it rained, we have no animals,” she said. “I can’t think of going back to herding.”
Last year a drought caused by the El Niño warming phenomenon in the Pacific baked Ethiopia’s fertile highlands in the north and centre of the country and left more than 10 million people needing food aid.
This year, temperature changes in the Indian Ocean have caused a drought in the south and east of the country, a much more arid region populated by shepherds and their flocks.
There are an estimated 5 million people in Ethiopia’s Somali region, of whom about 40% are pastoralists engaged in raising animals, according to the last census.
Last year, the Ethiopian government scraped together $700 million together with nearly $1 billion in international assistance to fight the drought.
For this year’s crisis, nowhere near the same funding is available as international donors grapple with severe hunger crises in two neighbouring war-torn nations – Somalia and South Sudan.
However, the latest humanitarian assessment indicates that 7.8 million people in Ethiopia need food aid.
A teenager walks through Nardo Camp for the displaced in Ethiopia’s Somali region, where drought has left millions needing food aid.