Drought Decimates Cattle in Ethiopia's Somali Region

After a succession of poor or failed rains, so many animals have been lost that often families can no longer support themselves. Current WFP estimates indicate that operations in 2009 will target more than eight million people.

KORAHE BRIDGE (Ethiopia) - The rains are trickling in to the Somali Region of Ethiopia after many months of drought and wisps of green are emerging on Korahe plain. But this small village remains ringed by scores of dead and dying cattle and donkeys. Village elder Abdi Ali Sheer despairs and says he’s never seen it so bad in his 85 years.

“In past droughts, we had places to go with our livestock, but now everywhere is the same – there’s nowhere for livestock to go and they’re dying here from disease,” he says, standing on the banks of the Fafan River as sick calf lying in the sun breaths its last a metre behind him.

With keffiyehs wrapped over their faces to block out the stench, young men drag dying and dead animals from the village and dump them on the surrounding plain. Fearing people will soon also fall sick, villagers plead for any organization to come and burn the carcasses.

Loss of livestock due to drought and disease is a major concern in many parts of the Horn of Africa at the moment. It’s one of the factors -- along with poor rains, high food prices, conflict and poor infrastructure – which makes the region one of WFP’s main operational priorities. The agency plans to ramp up its assistance from 14 million in 2008 to 16 million this year.

“For the last four months, people suffered a lot because of the drought,” says Abdi Ali Sheer. “A lot of livestock passed away during this period, and people also. People are malnourished and some are dying. Since yesterday, I only had tea and there is no food to eat.”

“Before the drought, I had 50 cattle. I now only have two or three,” says Sheer. A passing villager stops and steps in to say that he has lost every one of his animals and now has no seed to plant on the plain despite the light rains that started at the end of September.

The largely arid Somali region in the East of Ethiopia is one of the hardest-hit areas. In Ethiopia as a whole some 12 million people out of a total population of 74 million are affected by drought. Many families have been forced to sell their assets, reduce the number of meals and borrow food and money to survive.

Even if the next rains in Somali are normal, after a succession of poor or failed rains, it will take several seasons for the people left in Korahe Bridge to recover. So many animals have been lost that many families can no longer support themselves. Some have fled, selling most of their possessions including the thatch on their huts. Villagers talk of one man who committed suicide having lost all his livestock.

Somali will be at the centre of WFP operations in Ethiopia this year. The agency requires almost 700,000 metric tons (MT) of food for all programmes in the country. At present there is a projected shortfall for the year of 447,000 MT, valued at $378 million.