In the past few months, relief has come in the form of much-needed rain to many drought-stricken districts in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia. Following an extreme dry season in 2012, and two previous years of minimal rainfall, the need for rain was critical in communities that are supported through The Road Less Travelled (TRLT) project.
Before the rains, 24 water distribution trucks were being used in an effort to avert thirst. Many Afar communities were weakened by severe malnutrition, animals were too weak to collect and carry water for households, and communities were unable to reach markets and sell stock as the animals were too emaciated. There was a strong fear that livestock would die en masse, leaving thousands of households destitute.
Between March and May, rainfall in some areas has replenished water storages, however, much of the water is unprotected and highly exposed to contamination. This leads to an increased risk of waterborne diseases among an already vulnerable community. Health extension workers have been working with project-trained health workers to establish community-level sanitation, which is a huge challenge in itself given the Afar nomadic lifestyle.
Other areas remain dry, having received minimal rainfall in recent months, and communities have been forced to move far from their homelands in search of grazing lands for their livestock. With the health of the herd at the heart of the pastoralists’ livelihood, TRLT partner the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) continually monitors these conditions and supports displaced communities through animal feeding and treatment, and water distribution.
A flow-on effect of the drought is that many pastoralist school children are forced to abandon their studies. Along with the danger of malnutrition, lack of food means less energy to give to education. In a community where education is simply not prioritised, and massive school drop-out is inevitable during periods of extreme drought, the fear was that losing one year of schooling may mean the children never return to complete their education.
Anglican Overseas Aid gained the support of AusAID to implement an emergency response to the crisis as part of The Road Less Travelled project. As a result of this support, APDA was able to initiate a supplementary food program in the most drought-affected communities, designed to keep pastoralist children in school. The program has ensured 1,835 non-formal education students receive two meals per day for 60 days while they are learning.
The food provided is faffa, a protein-based powder that is either made into a porridge-like substance, or the Afar bread ga’ambo, and these are cooked by the Community Development Committees in each site. The health worker and women’s extension worker oversee the hygiene of the process as well as improving the students’ awareness around hygiene and sanitation.
This program strengthens existing efforts to improve education access for Afar pastoralist communities, and will enable the children to complete the school year while staying free of malnutrition and therefore in reasonable health.