El Niño: “Everything has changed”

Halima Galeli, a pastoralist in north-eastern Ethiopia

More than 24 million people around the world are currently in food crisis as a result of the impacts of the global weather phenomenon known as El Nino, which affects rain patterns and temperatures – and has led to extreme drought in countries from Papua New Guinea to Ethiopia, where 15 million people are affected.

Afar in north-east Ethiopia is one of the hottest places on earth. Temperatures can soar as high as 50 degrees. Normally, Afar has one major rainy season (Karma) lasting from June to September, and less heavy rains in December and from March through April (Sagum).

This year, the rains never came. Rivers have all but dried up, the groundwater level is extremely low, and there is too little grass growing for livestock to graze.

Driving and walking through Dewe in Afar state is like passing through an animal graveyard. Cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and even camels are dying in droves. The animals you do still see walking around are skin and bones.

Halima Galeli, a single mother with five children, says she has already lost most of her livestock. She said:

Sixteen of my cows have died. It won’t be long before the others go too. Unless God does something to stop it, I will soon follow myself.

Aden Mohammed Ibed
Adem Mohammed Ibed

Adem Mohammed Ibed shares a similar story. Having lost 30 cows in a short space of time, he feels hopeless. He said:

Never in my life have I experienced a drought like this. Everything has changed. Rain does not come as it used to. And our traditional early warning systems are no longer accurate.

Halima and Adem say that if they’d known the rains would fail to come again this year, they would have taken precautions and sold some of their livestock. Now it’s too late.

The people of Afar depend on the milk of cows, goats and camels for sustenance, as well as on the income they get from selling livestock and products like milk, butter, yoghurt and cheese. With the current shortage of feed and water, most of the animals left are no longer producing milk, which means children, mothers, the elderly, and indeed entire communities are now in danger.

Farmer with livestock in Ethiopia
A farmer with his livestock in West Hararghe, Ethiopia

Though the population of Afar mainly live off their livestock, recent years have seen them become increasingly involved in farming. Agricultural initiatives were made possible in part through small-scale irrigation projects set up around rivers in the region. Yet, with water levels inching ever lower, and some riverbeds completely dry, agricultural production has now also stagnated.

In short, the Afar people can no longer cultivate enough food on their own to survive. Add the high price of grain, low market price of livestock and lack of alternative income sources, and poor households are simply no longer able to feed themselves.

“We need aid, and we need it very soon,” says a local administrator.

I am afraid that without interventions, people will die as well. Livestock feed is desperately needed, and to be honest communities are already in need of food aid too.

The government of Ethiopia is coordinating the response and recently allocated 192 million dollars to support affected communities, but the magnitude of the impact means significant international support will be needed.

What is CARE doing?

CARE is currently supporting around 300,000 people in Ethiopia with food aid, assisting over 37,000 children and mothers affected by malnutrition, rehabilitating water points and enabling 20,000 people to access safe drinking water in the current drought. We are scaling up our response to assist over 500,000 people in the coming months.

Field with crops burnt by frost in Papua New Guinea
A field with crops burnt by frost in the Papua New Guinea highlands

Around the world, CARE is also responding to the impacts of El Nino in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

We are also monitoring the situation in Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Indonesia, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Haiti and Central America.

El Nino in Papua New Guinea: What it means for one family

In Papua New Guinea, El Niño caused the worst frost in 40 years, destroying crops across the normally fertile and productive highlands region. This has been followed by intense heat and lack of rainfall. Tema Piniel is a mother of four young children in Hwakange Village in the Menyamya District of Morobe Province.

Tema Piniel
Tema Piniel

“School has been suspended due to water and food shortages. I do not have enough food to feed my children and I have to travel long distances to collect water. This return trip takes about three hours. We have resorted to fetching our drinking and cooking water from the big river which is used by the whole population of 3,000 people in three different towns.

I have noticed that my children have lost weight and their skin is very dusty after having their bath in the river, the same river that we collect our drinking water from.

“The gardens that I tend to have been totally destroyed by the intense heat and long period without rain. Now my husband and I are eating as little as we can so that our children can have more to eat. Before, we all normally ate four to five sweet potatoes each. Now the six of us split two sweet potatoes. We only eat in the evenings as there is not enough food and drinking water. Throughout the day, all we do is chew sugarcane.”

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.