February 15, 2006
Two scenes from a drought
The man gives a short cry and the crowd surges forward, throwing buckets down over the side, leaning back to pour the water into cracked jerry cans, kicking over each other's containers in the rush.
They have to move quickly because this is probably the last water they and their children are going to see for more than 10 days. The water arrived two hours earlier, pumped out of a leaky government tanker truck. A few hours later it is all gone.
Moyale is at the heart of a devastating drought that has left an estimated 737,000 Ethiopians struggling to survive without access to clean water. Beyond Ethiopia, the drought has spread out to affect more than 8.3 million people, including 1.2 million children aged under five, across the Horn of Africa.
The zone sits on Ethiopia's porous border with Kenya, the southern most part of Ethiopia's lowland Oromiya region. Most traditional water sources, from hand-dug wells to underground cisterns, have already dried up after the near-total failure of two successive rainy seasons.
All that is left for Moyale's 124,000-strong, mainly pastoralist population, are three motorised boreholes and the one leaky truck which trundles slowly between them, collecting water and transporting it to 17 collection points, including the rough-hewn well.
When she first got her driving license 20 years ago, she dreamt of becoming a taxi driver in the capital. But she was quickly snapped up by the government to become one of Ethiopia's very few female long-distance lorry drivers, transporting cereals across the country.
These days she sleeps in her truck, filling up from boreholes around Moyale in the early hours of the morning when the water pressure is good, before setting off on her rounds.
"When people see my truck coming, they run up, jumping around for the water. When they see that I am a woman they are even more surprised. It is very unusual.
"I enjoy the job very much, because it is saving lives."
More than seven hours drive up the road is Goraye, a small settlement perched on the edge of the crater of an extinct volcano. Any other year, the crater and its 13 salty wells would be part of picture-postcard Africa.
This year the picturesque scene is littered with the corpses of thousands of goats and cattle.
Pastoralists from as far afield as Kenya have come here in search of water for their livestock. A constant stream of goats, camels and cattle slowly makes it way down to the bottom of the crater for their small allotment of water.
For many of the weaker animals, the walk back up again is too much. "We are losing about 200 or 300 animals every day," said Yatani Ali, a 42-year-old, father-of-two who makes his living through his herds.
"We have not had such a drought for the past five years." Yatani says he has lost 100 goats, five cows and four camels - more than a fifth of his total livestock - since the failure of the last hagayya rains, which should have fallen from September to December.
These days he is more worried about the health of his two children, aged four years and three months.
Development experts say it is generally the sheep and goats that go first in a major drought. Then it is the cattle, then the camels, then the people - many of them aged under five, picked off by opportunistic diseases like measles. Estimates of the number of human deaths during the region's last major drought in 2000 range from 56,000 to more than 90,000.
A few kilometers from the top of the crater in Goraye, the NGO Care is constructing a new bore hole that will stop pastoralists having to make the exhausting climb down to the salty wells and then back up again.
Until that arrives, Yatani is holding out for the next rains, expected in April. "More rain and God's help are the only things that can help us."
Posted by aheavens at February 15, 2006 2:56 PM