Borena is part of Ethiopia’s Oromia region and is located in the south of the country. The zone is inhabited by pastoralists that rely solely on their livestock for their existence. They eat the meat, drink the milk and sell the livestock to purchase other food, pay school fees, and purchase medication when needed.
I had visited this zone during the same month last year and, as we drive into Borena, the immediate difference I notice is how dry the land is. There is very little vegetation. I also don’t see as much livestock as there used to be. I am told that the communities have started migrating to neighbouring districts to look for water and pasture. The cattle that I do see have started to show signs of deterioration. I can see their ribs starting to protrude. Without outside intervention, it is likely that the cattle will deteriorate further and by the time communities decide to sell the animals, these will get a quarter of the price – driving people further into poverty.
The Borena people are well-known for prioritising their children when it comes to food, but I am now told that signs of malnutrition amongst the young ones are starting to show. This is a clear indication of how bad things are now – and will be in the months to come.
"The rains have failed. The rains have failed." This is the mantra that I seem to hear wherever I go.
During the drought of 2011, the Borenas lost over 250 000 cattle. This year’s drought is likely to be even more severe. One woman tells me that the Hagaya rains – the short rainy season from October to November – have not come yet and if they don’t arrive in a week, there will be no water for months to come. Children are no longer going to school; the priority is going to search for water. They walk for hours in the hope that the pond they are going to has not dried up.
The water point I visited, which GOAL has rehabilitated with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), was initially meant to benefit approximately 2 000 households and 10 000 livestock. Now it serves double this number because of the lack of water in the neighbouring districts.
An elderly man explains to me that there are also cattle from Kenya that have come across to Ethiopia due to lack of water on the Kenyan side. I am surprised by people's generosity in times of scarcity, but he explains to me that these people are also Borena like them, long before man-made borders dictated otherwise.
As we drive back to our office, I find myself unable to gather my thoughts and think clearly in the face of such a crisis. El Niño, global warming and climate change: for the Borena people these words mean very little. All they know is that the rains have failed them once again and they don’t know how they are going to survive in the months to come.