The signs of drought are evident in Ethiopia’s Siti region and it is the pastoralist communities who rely on their livestock that are bearing the brunt of the suffering. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been active in the area since late 2015, providing care to mothers and running therapeutic feeding programmes for the region’s malnourished children.
The arid region of Siti has seen little rain in the last year and a half. At the moment hardly anything grows that can sustain the livestock that is so central to the lives of the semi-nomadic people of this area. Without enough rain, this timeless way of life will assuredly come to an end in this part of eastern Ethiopia.
In the last few months, many of these semi-nomadic communities have migrated to the small village of Asbuli looking for support. Under the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, MSF runs a nutritional stabilisation clinic which receives the most urgent cases of childhood malnutrition. Other aid agencies are involved in water and food distribution.
From this central base, MSF also sends out community health teams that move from settlement to settlement, screening children for malnutrition and vaccinating them against diseases like measles, hepatitis B and polio.
“On any given day we can see between 90 and 200 children,” explains Fardowsa Jigre, team leader of an MSF outreach team. “When we see a malnourished child it is a sure sign that the whole family is hungry. But we can only help the most vulnerable. In Siti, the situation is very bad.”
“In general, the settled communities have been doing a little better than the nomadic groups in this crisis. There are lower levels of malnutrition in these communities and this is mainly because they are able to receive water rations and food aid.”
The pastoralists are often in the most remote corners of the region, as they move further and further away looking for water for their remaining animals. This makes it difficult for the government or any of the aid agencies to find them and provide help.
Inevitably, however, a time comes when these herders and their families have to make a choice – either to remain with their dwindling livestock or to abandon it all and come to more populated areas where they can get support.
Farah Ateyo is a father of four young children who was forced to make this difficult decision and walked the 100 kilometres, with his family, to the MSF clinic in Asbuli.
By the time he had completed this three-day journey, his youngest daughter Hawa was in such bad condition that she had to be admitted to the MSF feeding centre. Doctors immediately diagnosed her with the advanced stages of malnutrition with severe respiratory problems. For several days, she needed a ventilator to breathe.